Lisa, Bright and Dark

Lisa, Bright and Dark

4.1 23
by John Neufeld, J. Neufeld

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Hailed as a "work of art" by the New York Times, this bestselling classic brings a deft touch and understanding spirit to the story of a teenage girl's descent into madness-and the three friends who are determined to walk with her where adults fear to tread.


Hailed as a "work of art" by the New York Times, this bestselling classic brings a deft touch and understanding spirit to the story of a teenage girl's descent into madness-and the three friends who are determined to walk with her where adults fear to tread.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Jennifer Moore
The friends of Lisa Schilling are becoming increasingly concerned about her mental health. However, the adults they turn to for help are no help at all. Even her own parents won't admit to what is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone at school. Lisa is very sick. In a few short months, she has gone from an intelligent, outgoing girl to a paranoid loner who drifts in and out of her friends' lives. This is the compelling story of a child who cries out for help and is failed by the system and the adults around her. 1999 (orig.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
4.40(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.40(d)
760L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Lisa, Bright and Dark

A Novel

By John Neufeld

S. G. Phillips

Copyright © 2013 John Neufeld
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3298-8


"Daddy, I think I'm going crazy."

Mary Nell looked up astonished.

"Oh?" Mr. Shilling said. "Why is that?"

"I can't tell you," Lisa said. "I just think it's true. And I'm frightened."

"More, Tracy?" Mrs. Shilling asked.

"No, thanks," Lisa's sister answered.

"Lisa?" her mother asked.

"No. Listen, didn't anyone hear what I just said?"

"We heard you, dear," Mrs. Shilling replied.

"What is it you're crazy about?" Lisa's father asked.

"Damn it, Daddy! That's not it at all." Lisa took a big breath, as though she were fighting something down.

"What is it, then?"

"That is it. I don't know. I only have a feeling that something is awfully wrong. Inside my head. I hear people. Talking, I mean, inside."

"Coffee, Mary Nell?" Mrs. Shilling offered.

"No, thanks, Mrs. Shilling," M.N. answered.

"Listen to me!" Lisa shouted.

Everyone did.

"I think I'm going crazy," Lisa said again. "I think I'm going out of my mind. Could we get some help or something?"

"Like what?" her mother asked. "You've mentioned this before, but you never say what you want to do about it."

M.N. was startled. This was the first time she'd ever heard Lisa say anything about this.

"Besides," Mrs. Shilling went on, "I think it's very rude of you to discuss this sort of thing when we have guests."

"Oh," M.N. smiled sheepishly, "don't mind me. Really."

"Since you don't pay any attention to me when we're alone," Lisa protested, "I thought you might with other people around."

"All right, all right," Mrs. Shilling sighed. "What is it you think you need?"

"Well," said Lisa, calmer, quiet but not hopeful, "maybe a psychiatrist or someone. I mean," she added quickly, "it wouldn't have to be an expensive one. Just someone who would understand and know what to do."

"You've seen too many movies," Mr. Shilling said.

"Who else has a psychiatrist, Lisa, in your class?" her mother wanted to know.

"How should I know?" Lisa said, clenching her teeth, trying to smile politely. "I don't imagine it's the kind of thing people talk much about."

"I think it's exactly the kind of thing peopledotalk about, dear," said her mother, ringing a little silver dinner bell for the maid and smiling knowledgeably.

"Daddy, please," Lisa said, straining. "Please, could you talk to someone, or get a doctor? Or maybe just do anything?"

"All right, honey. As soon as I get back from Minneapolis," he said pleasantly and got up from the table.

Mary Nell said that Lisa just sat and stared at her father as he walked away. She started to turn toward her mother to say something but changed her mind. M.N. thought it might have been tears that stopped her.

And then Mary Nell saw Lisa's head begin to shake, ever so slightly. Not shake, exactly: quiver, up and down, from the chin. It was like palsy, M.N. said.

After a moment, Lisa too stood up and excused herself. Then she ran upstairs.

In her room, Lisa threw herself onto her bed and pulled up into a pony-position, on all fours, her sobs beginning the motion. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster, she began to rock back and forth, rhythmically smashing her head into the headboard.

M.N. stood in the hallway, listening through the door, before she eased it open.


My name is Betsy Goodman, and I count less than almost anyone else in this whole story.

What that means is that I'm not overconfident about things. It's nothing like a huge complex or anything; a lot of books say it's common in people my age, which is fifteen.

I'm not what you could call ravishingly beautiful, except for my teeth. These, as my father will be the first to tell you, are three thousand dollars' perfect.

I'm about average height (five-four), and I have dark, straight hair that falls to my shoulders without a hint of the slightest natural curl. My eyes are big, brown, and nearsighted, and when I absolutely have to I wear glasses.

Years ago my eye doctor told me that big, beautiful eyes are almost always nearsighted. It's the kind of well-meant statement that just rolls around and rankles like crazy when you're in front of a mirror looking into a horn-rimmed face.

The only other thing that's even vaguely interesting about me is my ambition. I do not want to be anything special — just what I think I'd be good at: being married. Maybe with a couple of kids and a really groovy-looking husband, living on a beach in California, reading about other special people who wanted to be something more and were.

Right now, what I am is plain, single, and alive on Long Island (if you can stand it). But I am sort of simple which, when you find out more about some of the other people involved with Lisa Shilling, and about Lisa herself, is probably a very good thing.

To begin with, there's Mary Nell Fickett, who used to live in California! There are a few important things to know about M.N. fast: she's very, very smart (she'd like to be the first woman justice on the Supreme Court); her father's a minister, which has been madly helpful to us because he has a thousand and one books about everything you can imagine; and she's not at all like me.

She doesn't wear glasses; she looks like Shirley MacLaine; she has a great laugh and eyes that make you smile back without thinking. And she's fantastically popular with boys.

Sometimes I stand near her just to see how many and which of them will come up to talk. It's basking in her reflection, but it makes me feel a little prettier so it can't be all bad. Besides, psychologically, as long as I know the reasons for doing what I do, whatever I do is O.K. (that's a rough translation of something in one of M.N.'s father's books).

In spite of the fact that I'm younger than M.N. (I got a quicker start in nursery school, so I wound up a little ahead of myself), she and I are friends. That means more than just living within a couple of blocks of each other. Like we talk on the phone a lot, go shopping together, and spend the night at each other's house every once in a while.

It's on those nights that I get my "lessons." M.N. thinks I need help in the boy department. I mean, if you examine my diary for the past year, you won't find it exactly bulging with gushy thoughts.

So M.N. spends a lot of time smartening me up. She arranges my hair and my wardrobe, and insists on hiding my glasses. She thinks I depend on them too much. I think I'm climbing the stairs standing still without them.

Naturally, we talk about everything in the world, from civil rights (which are M.N.'s big thing) to sex (which would be mine if I knew anything about it firsthand). And movie stars, and hippies, and free love, pot, potato pancakes, and Paul Newman; the Doors, censorship, Sly and the Family Stone. Strobe lights and see-throughs, Ethel and her kids, Paul Newman, Mia Farrow, the Iron Butterfly, and Paul Newman. Riots, Greenwich Village, suicide, San Francisco, diet Jell-O, and Brian Morris.

He, if you want to know, is the cutest boy in our class. I mean it. He is absolutely gorgeous! The thing is, of course, he knows it. Still, zowie!!! M.N. likes to take him apart psychologically, examining everything he does for hidden motives and meanings. I just like to look at him.

Of course, he didn't belong to either one of us, then. He was Lisa's. At least, he was for a while before she went away.

If Mary Nell is the All-American Girl, and I nail down the All-American Schlepp spot, the role of Princess goes to Elizabeth Frazer.

Elizabeth is something else. For one thing, she has piles of loot. For another, she hardly seemed as though she were in our school at all. It was more like she was just visiting each day.

Which sounds dumb, I know. The reason for it is that Elizabeth is like Grace Kelly used to be: regal, cool, far off, blonde and slim, and with clothes you wouldn't believe. And intelligent.

M.N. is smart and studies. Elizabeth is intelligent. She never raises her hand in class, but if a teacher calls on her, she has the right answer as though it were something everyone automatically knew.

Furthermore, if you're suddenly missing a boy, look for Elizabeth, the flame among moths.

To be fair, though, the thing about her and boys was that she moved here maybe a year and a half ago. So, of course, being a new girl and all, and being beautiful and loaded, you had to forgive a lot and understand instead.

What Elizabeth Frazer had I hadn't (besides wealth, beauty, brains, and such) was confidence. By the ton. She never explained anything, and never made excuses. If she, E. Frazer, did something, then of course it must have been right. At first, you thought she was unbelievably conceited. Later on, you didn't.

So there we all are, the three of us, with a sneaky look at Brian Morris (who just happens to look like Paul Newman, which certainly doesn't do any harm). What you don't have yet is a very complex, very simple — clever as can be but scary as hell — sometimes cheerful and often so depressed you wanted to lock her up until the mood passed — girl named Lisa Shilling.

Lisa was crazy.

But not like "crazy, man!" I mean, out of her skull. Sick, psychologically. Insane.

We noticed something a few months ago. When she noticed it no one knew, but it was long before she tried to kill Elizabeth and, after that, herself.


We have a new high school in our town. It was exciting leaving our old dirty brick wreck with its broken windows, torn screens, no air-conditioning, broken hall lockers, and tuna fish sandwiches every Friday. Then we got to the new place.

It has green blackboards, indirect lighting, air-conditioning, a new gym, clean halls with lockers that really lock, an enormous cafeteria — and tuna fish sandwiches every Friday. I guess it doesn't matter how you wrap some packages.

School was where all of us met. It's where Lisa and Brian fell madly in love. It was perfect. Lisa was the kind of girl who couldn't have been called beautiful, really; everything just seemed to fit. She was alert and had a mean sense of humor, and she seemed more grown up than the rest of us. She had an air which said she'd seen more of the world than we had. She had great style, a marvelous but not too full figure, and fantastic legs — the kind of girl who is usually secretary of the student council, not because everyone who knows her likes her, but because it seems the office is hers by right.

This was great in the tenth grade, and even better in the eleventh, when Brian Morris got to be president of the council. This was unusual, because ordinarily the office goes to a senior. I think everyone just went wild over the idea of Brian and Lisa together that way. It happens, sometimes.

I really didn't know Lisa too well then (I still don't, honestly). She was Mary Nell's friend, not mine. I wasn't going steady or anything like that, and in our school people run pretty much in groups. I mean, if Brian and Lisa wanted to do something, they would do it with other couples, not with people like me. Mary Nell, at the time, had a thing going with a senior almost as groovy as Brian himself. This one was a blond tennis player — the kind who goes to Yale or Princeton and winds up on Wall Street, joining lots of clubs. Anyway, that was how M.N. spent so much time with Lisa and Brian, and how I got to hear about everything they did.

Of course, there were a lot of things M.N. told me about I didn't pay much attention to. When one person always seems to be doing marvelous, groovy things, and all you get to do is hear about them, you can get a little depressed. So you learn to listen, or to seem to be listening, and to figure out when and how to nod at the right time, when to ask questions, when not to, and finally when to say you agree. This is called the art of conversation.

Or selective inattention, as my father says. Choosing what you want to hear and concentrating only on that. It was about six months ago that I began listening to Mary Nell when she talked about Lisa. Even being told about Lisa by a third person gave you the feeling she was undependable sometimes, a little strange.

The first thing I remember hearing was M.N.'s story about the night Lisa and Brian celebrated their first anniversary. A group of kids had gotten together for dinner and a movie, and then gone back to M.N.'s house. Lisa and Brian got funny presents, and there was dancing in Mr. Fickett's study. In the middle of the study, in the middle of the dancing, Lisa suddenly turned odd.

"Stop it!" she shouted, startling everyone. "Just stop it!" Then she turned and ran out of the room.

M.N. and Brian followed, neither knowing what it was they were supposed to stop. Brian held M.N. back and went to Lisa in the living room. M.N., of course, stayed within earshot.

"What is it, honey?" Brian asked Lisa, putting his arm around her shoulders. Lisa stared at him without speaking. "What's the matter, Lisa?" Brian asked again. "What's wrong?"

After a minute, Lisa answered in a bitter voice. "You're no better than the rest of them," she said, cutting her words off so that she sounded almost English. "Why can't you all stop it, and leave me be?"

"But what have we done?" Brian asked.

"Oh, really," Lisa sighed as though she were suddenly very tired. "Why can't everyone mind his own business? Why can't people stare at something else for a change?"

Brian said nothing.

"Really, Brian," Lisa went on. "Your friends are about the rudest people I've ever known. I should just like to be left alone, if you don't mind."

M.N. walked into the living room then, and saw Lisa shake Brian's hand off her shoulder and turn away sharply, heading for an easy chair in a dark corner of the room. Brian watched her go, letting her settle into the chair. Then M.N. took Brian and led him back to the study, explaining that maybe it was "that time" or something and that Lisa was probably just a little depressed.

Which may have seemed true, for about ten minutes later Lisa was back with the crowd, dancing and laughing and her usual self. And that was that. I thought it sounded pretty weird, but I guess everyone (except M.N.) went back to normal, too, saying nothing more about it.

M.N. remembered her dinner at the Shilling's. She began to think that what she had thought was a great put-on might be real after all. She began to think about it, and then she began to talk about it, to me.

Which was fine, and it interested me like crazy, but it wasn't the best thing to do. For we both should have talked about it — to other people. We shouldn't have been so cautious and polite. We could have tried to do something for Lisa even then.

Hindsight, that's called.


Lisa next began to stay at home. She wouldn't go out with Brian if other people were going to be around. Even in school you got the feeling that she wished we would all disappear.

This was miserably hard on Brian. He and Lisa were the couple in school: bright, popular, organized. They did things. He was captain of the hockey team. She was always at his side when he wanted her, helping and cheering or just standing there smiling with her arm through his. Before. Now, Brian found himself alone too much of the time.

He talked to M.N. about it, but she couldn't really do anything. Since Lisa hadn't mentioned illness to her again, M.N. decided she couldn't mention it to Brian. And although M.N. tried once or twice to get her to speak of her fears, Lisa said nothing. She still saw a few people in her room at home, but with the shades drawn and one tiny light on only. When she was in school, we began being able to tell when Lisa was having a black day, as we began to call them, and when she was having a fairly good bright day.

For she jumped from side to side for a while. Sometimes she would be her old self: confident, clever, open with everyone. Other times, she would withdraw, speak in a whisper, avoid meeting people in the hall or at lunch.

It got to the point where by her clothes you could tell her frame of mind. On good days, she was beautiful. She carried herself well and moved like an older woman who knew what moving one particular way could do to someone watching. On bad days, she wore dark clothing that only pointed out how pale she was, stooped over, with her shoulders hunched in toward her chest and her head down.

And all the time, Brian was going out of his mind, naturally. He couldn't figure out what, if anything, he had done. What any of us had done, or what we were supposed to have been doing, which seemed more likely. Lisa decided she didn't even like going to hockey games with him. Then, when she would go, Brian was so nervous he played terribly. He never knew when she would decide to disappear, which she began doing a lot, or to suddenly arrive when he wasn't expecting her. He couldn't accept invitations to parties because he never knew whether Lisa would go with him and he didn't want to go alone, and he was afraid to find out what she would say if he did. It got so bad he once made a sort of pass at Mary Nell.


Excerpted from Lisa, Bright and Dark by John Neufeld. Copyright © 2013 John Neufeld. Excerpted by permission of S. G. Phillips.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

"I always wanted to be a writer. I started writing early, and badly, sending off short stories to national magazines when I was ten or eleven. They were all returned.

"But I kept at it. All through high school and college. Everything I sent out came back. Thanks but no thanks.

"I moved to New York and worked in a publishing house. I kept writing. In fact, I was fired from my first job for spending more time on my own projects than on the publishing house's.

"I wrote on.

"In 1968, an editor from a small California publishing house and I hadlunch. She gave me an outline for a story she thought I could write well. I knew immediately I had to try.

"But what I wanted to do was write a short book, full of emotion and detail and excitement, for readers of all ages. I didn't know that Edgar Allan would be regarded as a children's book."It was.

"And when it was, everything fell into place. The minute Edgar Allan was launched successfully, I sat down to write Lisa, Bright And Dark. It, too, was a success so there was no turning back.Although I do write books for adults, the ideas that stimulate me always seem to come to me in the form of a story for young readers. I get ideas from everywhere: from the newspapers, from radio, from lunches and talks I have with friends.

"Right now, if I never get another idea, I have more story lines to work on than my lifetime probably permits."

Both Edgar Allan and Lisa, Bright And Dark, were selected as among the Best Books of the Year by the New York Times. Lisa, Bright And Dark was filmed for television, and aired as a Hallmark Hall of Fame on NBC-TV. Mr. Neufeld's other books have as recently as this spring (2000) been cited as among the best of last year's Young Adult titles by the New York Public Library and YASLA.

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Lisa, Bright and Dark 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
omg..i had to read this book for my school's 100 book challenge even though im in high school. Even from the cover the book just stood out to me. Once i started to read it i couldn't put it down. I love it so much!! I told all my friends about it. It's amazing that she went through all that just to ask for help. And her parents were so blinded by what they want thier lives to be they couldnt see that Lisa was going through hell.Well that's all i gotta say. I would still read this again..i finished it in one day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was so good i got it done in half an hour and then read it again because it was so good. It is amazing how the author jumps into the story and doesn;t do five pages of describing a tree. She jumps in with the first page and goes on from there.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a very good book and,there is a very good reason of why I rated it five stars and that is because I could relate to this book and,this is a very interesting book.if you are having trouble finding a book you might like I would consider this book because anybody could really relate to this book because,she has alot of problems and I would want to read this book any time specially over my other favorite book 'The Outsiders' by S.E Hinton but I think I have a new favorite book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing read ..It is my second read of this book .I read it first as a teenager it is still awesome after 20 years
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Guest More than 1 year ago
¿I think I¿m going crazy.¿ Lisa told her parents, but they didn¿t believe her. Lisa had said that she was hearing voices in her head she couldn¿t stop it and it was driving her crazy! She kept on trying to tell her parents that what she was saying was true. But they still didn¿t listen. They had company, Mary Nell she was just sitting there wondering what was going on. Her parents told her that they were sorry for her approach. She said it was fine. Lisa just didn¿t mind that she was even there so she just kept trying and trying, but it got nowhere. They just wouldn¿t listen to her. So she went up to her room and threw herself on her bed. Then she pulled herself into the pony-position, on all fours, and started smashing her head against the headboard. Mary Nell stood outside and listened then slowly eased the door open. What is Lisa¿s problem that she says she has? I liked this book because it is dramatic. I didn¿t like the beginning because I thought it was confusing. It was talking about this girl that they didn¿t talk about in the first chapter. But it starts talking about who she is as you go on. This book was exciting because of the way the author made you feel how Lisa felt. I don¿t know how she does it but she did. It `s like you know how she is feeling. The author talks about how her parents don¿t listen to her and most teenagers experience how their parents don¿t listen or understand what you are trying to say. So I thought that was what made this book exciting, and what actually happened in the book itself. Like the parts when she bangs her head against the headboard or when she was cutting herself well she was poking herself with a needle, which is a form of cutting. I recommend this book to anyone who likes drama or a book that talk about peoples lives and the problems that may occur. This book is also sad, because of her problem that she claims to have and her own parents wont listen to her. Also when it talks about al of the things that she has done to herself, like cutting and her head banging. These things are a real high point in the book. This was a bright and dark story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to completely lose your mind and have no idea what your next move would be? Imagine that you are a sixteen-year old girl dealing with numerous problems, and the only people that can help you are your three High School friends. You try to tell your parents that something is wrong, but they don't show the slightest interest, and accuse you of just wanting attention. Lisa Shilling from John Neufeld's book Lisa Bright and Dark, deals with these exact problems. The character of Lisa is very suspenseful, and makes the reader want to find out more about her, and eventually learn to know her and think of her as a close friend. Betsy, Mary Nell, and Elizabeth are her three friends that try and help her to overcome her problems. They worked with Lisa in-group discussion, and even went as far as hiring and professional psychiatrist and talking to Lisa's parents about her insanity. Mr. and Mrs. Shilling are in denial, and will not except the fact that their once ¿perfect¿ child has major issues, no matter how many times Lisa and others tried to prove them wrong. Lisa Bright and Dark is a very good book and has a great writing style. John Neufeld made this story very realistic just from the characters, setting and the description. He also made this book realistic because of the dialogue he used while Lisa was talking. The first chapter of the book gets you right into the mind of Lisa, when she first tries to tell her parents that something is wrong. He keeps this writing style until the very end where Lisa has mostly all bad days, and is talking about doing things to try to end her misery. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone that wants to read a good suspence novel that will keep you questioning what will happen next.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book when I was a young teenager in the 70's. This book taught me a lot. It kept me from going in the wrong direction. I highly recommend it to all teenagers and all parents!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book when I was in Junior High, I was not much of a reader, but this book I couldn't put down. The first time I read it was about 30 years ago and would love to read it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
All I can say is that I have read this book several times *6* to be exact. And I haven't gotten tired of it yet, you are hooked from the very interesting beginning. Every time I read it, it freaks me out the and entrances me the exact same way. As well as challenging me to think of what psychological problems she has. Very very interesting, gets you more eveloped in it as you pass the pages and time, and does not let go until the last page.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i think this book is amazing and it just goes to show that when a child calls out for help parents should listen
Guest More than 1 year ago
this was a great book. it gave great detail i love it
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was the best I've read in ages. It gives you a real perspective of Life as a teenager and as one with problems it shows teens can help and shows that some adults just don't want to accept some parts of life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
"Lisa Bright and Dark" is one of my favorite books. It's amazing!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yes I would definitely recommend this book to read, but only to those people who enjoy reading about tragedies. This book took me a little while to get into but then it just started to click with things that happen everyday in life and it teaches you a really important lesson. The illness that Lisa gets in this book does not choose you, you choose it. You choose it with the actions that you make or don't make and everybody in this world needs to understand that there is at least one person out there that you can talk to and who wants to help you. So don't hide and run away from a problem(s) because they will always come back to haunt you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was ok, but it certainly didn't keep me hooked. The dumb narrator, Betsy Goodman and her friends focused too much time on guys, and that shrink at the end. I mean come on, this book should be taken from Lisa's perspective.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I actually enjoyed reading this book because it shows how a child in many ways asks for help and never gets it, only from the people we'd least expect it to get it from. In this book it shows how weak adults really are, and how strong,confident, and helpful teenagers can really be. I'd ask parents to read this book thoroughly to learn something that they think they alredy know.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a good novel it showed a very real prespective on how mental illness can be, and how people around you can ignore the fact that a you are ill because they dont want to deal with it or because if they accept the fact that someone close to them is mentally ill theyre just afraid of what other people might think.I think this shows a good prespective on how it affects everyone around you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I gave this book 5 stars because it teaches you a lot about life and what can happen. If you like reading about mental illness or you just like a good book now and then, you will probably enjoy this one. Lisa only wants to get help. Someone to listen. Will she? Read and find out!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lisa Bright and Dark had a good moral benind it BUT it just didn't keep me interested. I am a very fast reader yet this story was so bad it took me a week just to read 145pgs. I would definitely not recommend it. The only reason why I read it was because I had to for school. If I didn't have to read it for school it wouldve been long gone. I really expected it to be better.