Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell

September 30th, the day I received the news of my adoptive brother’s death, I also received a brand-new couch from IKEA.

– Opening sentence

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace describes itself as a “dark comedy about loss, grief, solitude, and ghosts” – I must have missed the comedy!

While it does have some comedic elements to it, the fact that it’s quite clearly suggested that the main character, Helen Moran, has some symptoms of mental illness/disability makes it less comedy, and more tragedy.

At the beginning of the book, Helen Moran is told that her adoptive brother has died by suicide. She immediately leaves New York City to travel back to her adopted parent’s home in Wisconsin, a home that doesn’t exactly welcome her back with open arms.

Helen and her non-biological brother, both born in Korea, were adopted by wealthy, white, American parents. Helen recounts that they both struggled with their identity as they were growing up, but while Helen chose to leave her adopted family and settle in New York, her brother never moved out of his childhood bedroom.

Helen is determined to uncover the mystery surrounding her brother’s death. Why would he kill himself? Did she miss any warning signs? But as the reader, we are instead uncovering the mystery of Helen. Like I said earlier, the author drops hints that something is not quite right with Helen. She has trouble with communication and appears to lack the ability to empathise with people. Her moral compass is a bit off as well; we discover that Helen works with “troubled young people”, and regularly buys them, and her co-workers, marijuana on the company credit card, because, in her words, it is essential to the team as it keeps everyone calm and happy.

This may seem comedic, but when you see how other characters respond to Helen, usually in a negative manner, you start to see how un-funny the situation really is. Helen is constantly misunderstood and treated with impatience and rudeness, particularly by her adoptive parents. This leaves her isolated and oftentimes confused, and you feel a great sense of sadness for her.

The whole book is extremely well written, speaking louder between the lines than on them. At the end, Helen discovers the truth behind her brother’s death, and if it doesn’t leave you in a puddle of your own tears then you are a stronger person than me.

Not all readers will like this book, but I was fascinated, obsessed and moved by it.

 When he killed himself, it was the first thing in his life he had ever done for himself, I thought, and the most generous thing he could do.

– Final sentence

4 Stars (4 / 5)

When I finish a book, I always like to do a little research on the author. To my despair, I stumbled across an article which revealed the parallels between Patty Yumi Cottrell’s own life and Sorry to Disrupt the Peace:

“Like her awkward narrator Helen Moran, Cottrell was born in Korea in 1981. Like Helen, she was adopted by a couple from the American midwest. Cottrell’s parents adopted two younger boys from Korea, who were not biologically related and lived in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee; the fictional Morans stay in Milwaukee and adopt only one boy. But both the writer and her creation are English majors who have held down crappy jobs. And both of them have a brother who killed himself.”

While Cottrell makes it clear that her debut is NOT a memoir, it’s clear to see how her personal life influenced Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, and perhaps why she was able to tap into those dark themes of loss and grief.

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