29 June 2015

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Francesca Zappia’s MADE YOU UP has been getting a lot of attention, especially after John Green made mention of it. It’s well-deserved: MADE YOU UP is an excellent story, full of voice and heart and just the right amount of crazy, if I can be forgiven for using the word.

High school senior Alex has paranoid schizophrenia. She’s been managing it with medication ever since she was eight years old and tried to free the lobsters from the grocery store. She’s not managing it well, though: she consults a Magic 8 ball for answers, does perimeter checks everywhere she goes, and still grapples with paranoia and fairly frequent hallucinations.

After spray-painting her former high school’s gymnasium with the word COMMUNISTS, she’s had to transfer for her final year of high school to East Shoal High School, where she encounters a boy who may or may not be a figure from her past: the boy with the startling blue eyes that she thought she met when she tried to free the lobsters. Her parents have never mentioned the boy, so she always thought he was a hallucination.

The boy’s name is Miles, and Alex isn’t sure if he’s the one she met at the lobster tank or not. What she does know is this: everyone at school is wary of Miles. She’s warned away from him by her only friend, Tucker, but then forced to see him every day since he leads the East Shoal Recreational Athletics Support Club, which Alex has been inducted into as community service. Miles is cold, rude, and plays pranks on her. But eventually—as happens in these types of stories—things thaw out. Alex and Miles get to know each other. Sparks fly.

What makes MADE YOU UP so different isn’t the will-they-won’t-they high school romance. It’s Alex. When all of reality is suspect, how can your narrator be reliable? Even Alex knows she’s not reliable. But that doesn’t stop you from rooting for her. It doesn’t stop you wanting to get inside Miles and see what makes him tick.

There was a moment in MADE YOU UP where I almost put the book down. Alex committed the type of betrayal I find hard to get past, more from my own history and memories of high school than from it being objectively horrible. But I’m glad I stuck with it. MADE YOU UP had some great twists—some I was expecting, some I was not—and it had a wonderful, emotional payoff at the end.

MADE YOU UP is the third book (maybe fourth) I’ve read recently that deals with schizophrenia. SCHIZO told the story of Miles’s descent into a severe episode, after he gives up his medication; MOSQUITOLAND’s Mim may or may not have even had schizophrenia, though her father worried constantly about her seeing things; CHALLENGER DEEP showed us Caden’s unravelling as his symptoms first manifested and he was hospitalized; and now, MADE YOU UP has shown a life lived while dealing with schizophrenia. It was great to see the disease normalized, to an extent—to show that it’s not the end of the world, and to see an honest look at how people live with it.