Out of the Woods, by Neikehienuo Mepfhu-o

Published 2022 | Fiction

A boy caught between the real and an ‘alternate reality’, ‘Out of the Woods’ by Neikehienuo Mepfhu-o takes a look at the struggles that mental health illnesses bring with them – for the person and their immediate family members.

During a recent trip to Nagaland, I decided to pick up a book or two written by local authors, and ‘Out of the Woods’ by Neikehienuo Mepfhu-o was one among them. One of the key reasons to pick up the book was the book blurb – there was no tiptoeing around the subject of the book, no promises of happy endings and salvations, no hiding the fact that this could be (and is) a painful read.

Out of the Woods is a book that may act as a trigger for individuals who have dealt with mental health issues – themselves or as support for families. Because Neikehienuo Mepfhu-o captures the emotional turmoil not only of the afflicted but the immediate family too. It took me a good while to read through the book as it brought back memories from the days when I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, the battle that ensued and the struggles that my immediate family, especially my parents faced in the interim.

The Crux

Neikehienuo Mepfhu-o’s ‘Out of the Woods’ is the story of a family struggling to cope with the trials and tribulations that village life brings with it while also grappling with the trauma of caring for a growing teen who is struggling to find his place in the real world that collides with the alternate world he lives in. The book traverses through the life of this family that is caught in an endless, harsh loop of loss, pain, trauma, the struggle to find the cause’ to the boy’s ‘behaviour’ and the penultimate discovery of the road to healing.

The Highs & Lows

One of the highlights of the books is the strong hold the writer has on the language (which could be contributed to the fact that she is an educator based in Kohima and has won an award for a previous book). The author uses simple language as effectively as a painter uses a paintbrush – her words transport you from the eerily peaceful and happy alternate world the boy lives in while effectively drawing out a picture of the home and world the boy inhabits with his family. She uses words to explain to the readers the thoughts and emotions that rush through the boy’s mind, in vivid contrast to the helpless anguish and frustration of the family that is tied together by their love for him. What is disturbing – and true – is that it is this very love and resultant uncertainty that govern their lives and threaten to break them apart. The book is a deep dive into the mind of a young boy dealing with an undiagnosed mental health disorder.

I keep writing ‘the boy’ because that is what he is through the book – ‘the boy’ – and that, in my opinion, works to create an awareness that the teenager and the family could be anyone, in any part of the world.

The relatives, the villagers, the pastor and other sources that claim they can help the child act as a commentary on the society’s struggles to accept the reality of mental health issues. This would, perhaps, be more pronounced in pockets that continue to remain relatively disconnected from the rest of the woke and allegedly more aware world.

So, does this mean Out of the Woods is without its follies? The very strength of the author works against the book – the words. By the time you reach the halfway mark, you may be hit by the ‘this is repetitive’ thought because it is for several pages. Thankfully, there is a shift from the normal to the parallel reality which shocks the reader out of the lull.

Another aspect that did not work for me is the end – the journey from the intervention, to seeking medical help and the manner in which the doctor explains the situation as also the boy’s return to ‘normalcy’ is not fulfilling from the reader point of view. Personally, tighter editing could have definitely helped the cause of this book.

However, for the sheer gumption required to write an entire novel that depicts the emotional trauma and exhaustion of mental health, Neikehienuo Mepfhu-o’s Out of the Woods is definitely a book I’d suggest you pick up.