The short: 3.5/5 ✦. An fantastic novel with great characters that perhaps falters in realism.
I have conflicting feelings about this book, hence the somewhat wishy-washy rating of 3.5 stars.
On one hand, it’s incredibly well written. The characters are warm and believable; everyone is multi-faceted and has both positive and negative qualities. Sure, you’re rooting for the main character and her friends, but they’re not presented as angelic beings of pure goodness. And not just because they go around pulling dangerous and technical illegal pranks. They hurt each other, they get down on themselves, and ultimately, they have to learn and grow. I liked how Alex’s illness was presented as “normal” as possible. She’s a typical teenager who does teenagery things and happens to have a mental illness. It doesn’t define her entire character, though of course she can’t help but be affected by it and it affects how others treat her, and that’s also realistic. She also falls in love, but he doesn’t magically “fix” her, nor she him (as he also isn’t neurotypical). It’s almost like an example of what would happen after a situation like in Challenger Deep — after they go back to their “normal” lives. The illness is ever-present, but Alex takes her medication, talks to her therapist, and gets ready for college. One of the plots of the novel (which is really more of a slice-of-life narrative) doesn’t even really revolve around Alex and her schizophrenia.
Unfortunately, that’s kind of where it starts to fall apart. The secondary “mystery” plot is a bit confusing; I’m not even sure how or why it got started, nor how it ends up where it does. The characters seem to know, and it makes sense for them, but I feel like I missed a conversation or a whole expository chapter or something. Like, why are they doing this? Why does it matter? Who are these people? And that makes the ending extremely confusing, though I believe part of it is supposed to be. The perspective is through Alex’s eyes, and since she can’t always tell the difference between what’s real and what’s an hallucination/delusion/illusion, neither can we. Ultimately, of course, the mystery gets resolved, and there’s hope in Alex’s future even if everything’s not exactly how she expected or wanted.
The other caveat is with Alex’s illness, which many reviewers have pointed out that it’s not a realistic portrayal of schizophrenia, and that its representation here just spreads more misconceptions about it. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, especially since I do think it is presented respectfully and with perceptions on both sides. There’s a “twist” of sorts (one that I did not see coming at all), and though I was shocked and dismayed for Alex, others may feel differently. Basically, Alex’s illness is a divisive point among readers, and perhaps it would have been better handled if it had not been labeled with “schizophrenia,” which has a unique set of symptoms. Mental illnesses and the people who have them vary from one side to the other, and I’m sure there are actually people very similar to Alex who may find this book a comfort. I cannot speak for them, nor can I speak for those who find it insulting and inaccurate. I will state only my opinion that the novel overall is written with the intention of respect and doesn’t sugarcoat mental illnesses in any way.
All that being said, I would still recommend this book. Perhaps do some research either before or after to get a more developed idea of what schizophrenia and other mental illnesses are and are not, but I think it’s a worthwhile read simply for the excellent writing and characters.
Header image: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia, published May 19th 2015 by Greenwillow Books