Book Review: ‘Ben Behind His Voice: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope’

Randy Kaye’s Ben Behind His Voices is a highly readable, engaging and heartbreaking true story of a mother coming to grips with the onset of schizophrenia in her son.

While non-fiction, it is written as a narrative suitable both for those who have a clinical interest in the phenomenon of serious mental illness—especially schizophrenia—as well as for those who are interested in the illness but are looking for something swift and enjoyable rather than dry and purely didactic.  

The narrative is fast-paced, which makes the book impossible to put down. It’s also informative for those with a more clinical interest in the disorder, as the author interposes purely expository clinical information in between chunks of narrative. A clinical and theoretical outline of schizophrenia is made available along with a concrete account of the illness, which throws into stark relief the horrifying reality of what it is like to experience mental illness or to cope with the sorrow of the one who suffers from it. This is not only a story of an individual suffering from mental illness and the turmoil it causes his family, but also a first-person account of a heart-broken mother who sees so much potential in a highly gifted son with an IQ of 148 who, were it not for his mental illness, could have easily accomplished whatever he desired.  

Stylistically, the writing is informal yet highly eloquent. Randy Kaye is genuinely gifted when it comes to impressing the high-brow reader without going over the head of the more casual reader. Her flair will be evident to all but is never pretentious or overwrought.   

What stands out about this book above all things is its brutal honesty. Not once does she whitewash either her own behavior or the behavior of her son. She admits to everything from expressing hatred for her very own son during her most exasperated moments, to slapping him in the face when he became disrespectful. As anyone who has had a friend or close family member who struggles with mental illness can testify, coping with its potentially burdensome effects can really teach the essence of what it means to love someone unconditionally. The book is also a great empathy-building introduction to the struggles both individuals and their families face when confronted with mental illness.   

It is one thing to read about the symptoms of mental illness in the DSM-V, and quite another thing to read an actual, concrete account of what such an individual and his family goes through in weathering the storms. The book is not only instructive for the reader curious about schizophrenia, but may be helpful even to the seasoned clinician looking to deepen his capacity for empathy towards his patients.