12 November 2014

Schizo by Nic Sheff

This was a total impulse purchase from the last time I was at Rainy Day Books, my local independent book store. I've been fascinated by schizophrenia for some time, and would like to write about it some day, so when I saw the book and read the jacket copy and the first page I decided this was for me.

SCHIZO tells the story of Miles Cole, a teenager in San Francisco who experienced his first schizophrenic episode the same day his brother disappeared at the beach, in what was either a kidnapping or a drowning. Two years later, the case is still unsolved, with drowning considered the most likely outcome.

Now, Miles is managing his symptoms, though with occasional rough spots. He sees a doctor, he takes medicine, he does okay in school. But there's always the crippling guilt of what happened to his brother, and what it did to their family.

Miles's voice was so clear, heartbreaking, funny and honest. He wasn't foulmouthed, but he wasn't afraid to swear. His vernacular was spot on, caught in that place between eloquence and teenage rebelliousness. His yearning for a normal life came through loud and clear, even as he struggled to be himself and not be defined by his diagnosis.

I REALLY can't say more without delving into spoiler territory, so stop here if you don't want to know what's what. Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to anyone. The We Need Diverse Books movement is making great strides, but neuro-diversity is something I haven't seen a lot of yet. This book is sorely needed. Everyone needs to know that people with mental illness are, above all, people. And those who suffer need to see that they're not alone.

Okay, now, for those who want to know more, read on. But there's spoilers.

I really mean it.

Okay. As long as you're sure.

In a book about schizophrenia, it was pretty much inevitable that the narrator would be unreliable. There are clues peppered throughout the book of what might or might not be real. Miles himself knows that he might not be accurately perceiving the world outside him. But what he never considers, even from the start, is that his internal reality may be compromised as well, and that's a truly terrifying though.

Halfway through the story, Miles decides to stop taking his medications. And from that point on things get even weirder, but it becomes more obvious to the reader that Miles is having trouble. Nic Sheff kept repeating this phrase - A cool breeze blowing through my mind - which was so evocative, it told me all I needed to know about what it felt like to have schizophrenia. I was there with Miles.

I actually did guess the twist early on in the novel, but the thing is, the twist wasn't the point of the novel. The heart of the story was what happened after the twist, after Miles hit his lowest ebb and had to move past it. The book jacket said (I think in several places) that the novel was ultimately hopeful, and that is exactly right. Miles finds hope that he can coexist with his condition. And in one of the most joyfully heartbreaking scenes, he finds hope that his family can be whole again.

I truly loved the ending of this book. I highly recommend it to pretty much anyone.