Despite Their Playful Covers, These Self-Help Books Are Real, Raw & Life-Changing

by E. Ce Miller

Her name is Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, better known as the author SARK, and her self-help books are like none you’ve ever read before, guaranteed. Handwritten in primary-colored text, filled with doodles and watercolors and photographs, SARK’s books are like a sexy, serious version of Amelia’s Notebook, written for adult women. But don’t let the casual, playful format fool you: SARK’s books are designed to help you get your sh*t together, in a big way.

SARK has been publishing since the 1990s — she wrote her very first book at 10-years-old — and almost half of her 17 books are national bestsellers. That includes Succulent Wild Woman, the book that pulled me onto the SARK bandwagon in the first place. With four dancing stick figures and a sprinkling of watercolor hearts oozing across the cover, the cover of Succulent Wild Woman makes it look more like one of those spiral-bound community-sourced cookbooks your grandmother’s sewing circle used to put together than a self-help book filled with sex, drugs, elite island excursions, and a whole lotta healing.

With chapters like "The Importance of Being Crabby," "Erotic Robots," and "Adventuring without Money," Succulent Wild Woman is filled with recommendations to take more naps, eat mangos naked, practice extravagant lounging, become a committed vibrator user, and so much more. SARK describes her mother’s talent for hypnotizing chickens. She shares her insatiable passion for island life. She explains that she is so enthrall with traveling alone that once, while on train to Paris with a man, she asked him to leave just so she could take on the City of Lights solo. (He didn’t take it so well.)

But despite the bright colors, playful illustrations, and — yeah, deliciously succulent — advice and anecdotes, SARK’s books share a personal history that the author has spent a lifetime learning to heal. "I am a survivor of sibling incest, physical abuse, rape, and am an 'almost alcoholic,'" she writes in Succulent Wild Woman. "I’ve taken most 'recreational' drugs and been on welfare. I’ve attempted suicide. I’ve binged on food and explored my codependency. I’m moderately neurotic and am currently examining my narcissistic structure. I have tendencies to be depressed, worry, and see things negatively."

Through a combination of travel, therapy, introspection, and art, SARK managed to transcend that early abuse and the self-destruction it inspired. Admitting that she still works on overcoming her inner (and sometimes, outer) "angry victim," SARK shares a list of her favorite healing places: the ocean, the woods, gardens, tops of hills, the bathtub; offers a collection of ways to forgive; highlights the ways women have been socialized into unhealthy relationships with money and earning money; offers advice on how to form abundance-driven money mindsets instead; and encourages women to explore "radical self-acceptance" — of their bodies, minds, emotions, desires, sexuality, and more. She makes self-help, very often, feel like play — the kind of play that’ll change your life and heal your soul.

Succulent Wild Woman directs readers to SARK’s other work — in particular, her book Inspiration Sandwich, which shares more of her personal history alongside 43 different SARK-approved ways to awaken your creative self. In it, she reminds readers not to underestimate the power of having a diverse community of authentic people by your side. She encourages readers to keep an eye out for “magical moments” — those tiny, everyday occurrences that could turn your whole mood around if you just paid close enough attention. She invites you to read the book, as she does all her books, forwards, backwards, inside-out, at-random, and — if you’re so inclined — to eat it. (I’d echo all but the latter.)

The freedom with which SARK creates her work is contagious — because she is so free, wild, and authentic with you, she opens the door for you to be free, wild, and authentic with yourself. Unlike typical self-help books, with their data and their formulaic approach to self-healing, SARK leads by example: rather than telling you how to heal from an academically-approved distance, she’s extending a hand and inviting you along for a ride. Reading SARK is like reading the diary of that big sister who came of age just before you did: it’s real, raw, a little fun and flirty, and will make you feel a whole lot less alone, no matter what you might be going through. And it just might inspire you to breakout some watercolors, too.