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BOOK REVIEW: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

BOOK REVIEW: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Greenwillow Books
October 2016
Paperback, $17.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult

6/10

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Sometimes I think people take reality for granted.
I mean like how you can tell the difference between a dream and real life. When you’re in the dream you may not know it, but as soon as you wake up, you know that your dream was a dream and whatever happened in it, good or bad, wasn’t real. Unless we’re in the Matrix, this world is real, and what you do in it is real, and that’s pretty much all you ever need to know.
People take that for granted.

We join Alex, diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, as she starts her senior year at a different school; a move necessitated by an “incident” at her old school.

She has her own ways to deal with her illness and try and work out what’s real and what isn’t.

The doctors were oodles of help, but I developed my own system for figuring out what was real and what wasn’t. I took pictures. Over time, the real remained in the photo while the hallucinations faded away. I discovered what sorts of things my mind liked to make up. Like billboards whose occupants wore gas masks and reminded passersby that poison gas from Hitler’s Nazi Germany was still a very real threat.

Her sister is always there for comfort.

The door creaked open and a tiny body wedged its way inside my room. I opened my arms and Charlie climbed into my lap without hesitation. I buried my face in her hair. She was the only one I let myself cry in front of, because she was the only one who never asked what was wrong, or if I needed anything, or if she could help.
She was just there.

And, of course, all the medications that her doctors throw at her.

My medication helped sometimes. I knew it was working when the world wasn’t as colorful and interesting as it normally was. Like when I could tell the lobsters in the tank were not bright red. Or when I realized that checking my food for tracers was ridiculous (but did it anyway because it calmed the prickle of paranoia on the back of my neck). I also knew it was working when I couldn’t remember things clearly, felt like I hadn’t slept in days, and tried to put my shoes on backwards.

Settling into a new school, complete with its own legends and rumours, can make it hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. 

She finds friends in the most unlikely of places, and starts to feel like she’s building a normal life of sorts.

He scanned what I’d written inside the card. Dear Asshole: Thank you for keeping your word and believing me. It was more than I expected. Also, I’m sorry you were inconvenienced by my gluing your locker shut at the beginning of this year. However, I am not sorry that I did it, because it was a lot of fun. Love, Alex.

But it could all come crashing down with the slightest provocation, if anyone at her new school were to learn the truth about her. 

And are the plots on the life of one of her new friends for real, or is she hallucinating again?

 

This book was cute and engaging, and was devoured in under two days during the work week.

This book encourages the reader to see through Alex’s unreliable narrator’s point of view, questioning the reality that surrounds her. The reader can’t help but question the people around her, looking for signs that they’re not real. Though this reader was able to predict two of the big plot twists from very early on in the book, and hence not feel too emotional when they were revealed, there were others that crept up more discreetly.

There was one element of this book that, though not detracting from the enjoyment of the story, did undermine one of the major themes, and it would have been nice if that had been cleared up. And, as far as mental illness goes, this is a rather soft, romanticized version of schizophrenia, but at least it wasn’t used in the “this makes her interesting and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl” way. As someone who hasn’t had to deal with schizophrenia personally, I was still able to enjoy the book. Though, had I been reading a book about something like OCD, with which I have had my own struggles, and it treated it as lightly as this did a much more serious mental illness, I would likely have been rather insulted. It is not an accurate portrayal, so keep that in mind when picking up this book, and take the gorgeous cover as a hint as to just how dark the story is(n’t). There are some serious moments, but mostly it’s all quite fluffy.

It’s a story of friendship, and asking for help, and various issues that teens have to deal with, and finding value in your world, even if you’re not sure what’s real and what’s going to last.

She suddenly looked very, very old. “I’m tired of this. I’m tired of being alone. I’m tired of the way people look at me and the things they say. And I’m tired of trying to deal with it on my own.”
“So don’t,” I said. “You’re allowed to ask for help.”
“Why doesn’t anyone tell us that?”
“Because… maybe no one told them.”

Overall this is a rather sweet coming of age story, with some emotional themes that might have packed more of a punch had they been less easy to predict, plus (soft) mental illness without a lot of the realistic downsides because they would be inconvenient for the story. But the end result is still an enjoyable, quick read, that had this reader grinning like a fool and glued to the pages. Just don’t go into it expecting mega-realism with regards to schizophrenia.

BOOK REVIEW: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

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