Book Review: Agorafabulous! by Sara Benincasa

Agorafabulous by Sara BenincasaGenre: Memoir
First Published: 2012 (February 14th)
I read this in: English, the original language
I got this book: for review from the publishers, William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins)
Number of pages: 255
Rating: 4/5

I love reading memoirs.Not those by famous people, I don’t care one bit, but I do like memoirs by special people, people that overcame some obstacle in their life, or (temporarily) lived a life different from most of us.

In this case, the author suffered from agoraphobia, generally known as a fear of public places.

Agorafabulous!: What it is about

Sara Benincasa tells in an amusing way about her mental illness, agoraphobia. She had been having panic attacks before, but on a high school trip to Italy, she had a panic attack while travelling in a bus and had to be taken to hospital.

Later, as a college student, her illness develops for the worse. Even though she’s been taking medication, she becomes so frightened of leaving the house, that she stays indoors all the time. Even worse, she knows there’s something scary about the bathroom and refuses to visit it. When her friend finds her all dirty and with bowls of urine under the bed, she calls Sara’s parents, who take her home.

A new life starts for Sara, living back at her parents’ at first, and later living on her own again. The book describes  the jobs she takes while considering how to get a college degree after all, and how eventually she ends up in New York as a stand-up comedian.

Agorafabulous!: What I thought

4 out of 5 stars This was an entertaining story about someone suffering from a mental illness. If that sounds bad, so be it. Sara Benincasa doesn’t hold back and tells things as they are, but in an easy-going, uplifting way.

On the one hand, this was a great way to write the book. The reader learns about agoraphobia without having to deal with heavy, difficult descriptions. On the other hand, he book was a little too light-hearted for me. I wouldn’t have minded learning a bit more about her situation. Especially the chapter where she’s refusing to leave her house seems to take only a small part in the book. But I guess there isn’t all that much to say about a time when you were spending weeks at a time in bed.

What I found very interesting was that she explained that going outside wasn’t just scary for her, but she knew, she had this insight, that she would die if she went outside. So, really, by staying indoors, she was behaving rather sensibly, you could say!

The book describes her life mainly from early to late twenties. I liked her as a person and loved to read how she got over her anxiety (for the most part). I haven’t heard of her outside the book, and so my reading of the book wasn’t at all influenced by what I knew about her already.

I very much enjoyed reading this book, a kind of coming of age story, but then of a twenty-something growing to become a more grown up grown-up. It’s a bit more light-hearted than I would have liked but I loved spending some time with Sara in the book.

Extra: You can win this book during the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop (from Saturday 18th until Wednesday 22nd)!


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

13 Responses to Book Review: Agorafabulous! by Sara Benincasa

  1. Nadine Nys says:

    It must be really difficult living with a disease like that. I have known of someone who was so afraid of bacteria and the like, that she was constantly cleaning and rubbing, even when someone just opened a door, she had to clean the door on both sides. At first she wouldn’t admit she had a problem, but eventually she agreed to follow treatment, because nobody wanted to spend time with her anymore. I heard she is much better now.

    • Leeswammes says:

      That sounds very hard indeed, Nadine. But how can you *not* clean the door if you’re convinced it’s contaminated? So hard to get out of that on your own. It’s good she finally went for treatment.

  2. Joanne says:

    I’ve got this on my kindle, I’m looking forward to reading it.

  3. bibliosue says:

    I just finished a novel, History of a Pleasure Seeker, that had a young boy who was so afraid of leaving his house that the family had to build an inner passage between their home and that of their aunt’s next door where he would take his lessons (thankfully they were very rich and could do that)
    It might not be right to say, but I don’t quite understand agoraphobia as compared to claustrophobia; I think I should check out this memoir and clear up some of my ignorance.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Suzanne, I think both phobias go back to the fight or flight response, and then the flight response in particular. If you go outside, something terrible may happen to you and you can’t get away, if you are stuck in a small space, you may fear you won’t be able to get out again (locked in there) – both are of course control issues, not feeling confident about being able to control your situation/surroundings.

      Just guessing, really. I *am* a psychologist but not the kind that knows a lot about people problems (I studied psychology of language – how does the brain process language).

  4. Thanks for the recommendation! This looks like my cup of tea. I much prefer an “overcoming obstacles” memoir that is told humorously, rather than in a sappy, maudlin way a la Lifetime movies. I’ll look for this one.

  5. Great review. Thanks for sharing. It is most interesting to read intriguing books dealing with mental illiness in an entertaining, easy yet informative way. This sounds like a delightful read.

  6. Roxanne says:

    This might be something I would like! I also loved books like “Prozac Nation” and “I never promised you a rose garden”… not the lightest themes but somehow it’s fascinating to see how a person can grow and how life does get better for them!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Roxanne, yes, I think you will like this. I read Rose Garden many many years ago. Agorafabulous is a non-fiction so very different, but an very interesting topic.

  7. Pingback: Agorafabulous: Coping With Agoraphobia. « Human Body Engineer

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