My Rating: 7/10
One of the topics I find interesting, in fiction and non-fiction alike, is mental health. Or, more specifically, how a character in the narrative tries to parcel out what is real and what is imagined. Psychology as a subject has fascinated since I first got introduced to it in high school and you can find me on any given day researching the specifics of certain mental/biological conditions that affect the mind. It was during one of my information binges that I came across Francesca Zappia’s Made You Up.
I have mixed feelings towards this book. I mean, I liked it for what it was in terms of the mental health dimensions of the narrative but I was constantly reminded that this was also your standard YA narrative due to its reliance on certain tropes that I have long gotten tired of. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Made You Up is about a young woman named Alex who has been dealing with schizophrenia since a very young age. Her condition was made known to her parents after she tried to free the lobsters at a local grocery store assisted by a boy she called “Blue Eyes.” As she grows older, she believes she made the boy up since no one in her life ever brought him up again. The story officially begins as she is about to enter her senior year at a new high school. Lo and behold, her past imaginary friend, “Blue Eyes” or Miles, starts appearing in her life again. As she is making her way through high school, she has to decide what’s real and what her mind is making up.
So, the good first. The mental health aspect of the narrative and Alex’s struggle with it were really well done. The narrative blurred the line between fantasy and reality effectively and I was taken by genuine surprise by many of the twist and turns it took. One thing I really liked was how some of Alex’s delusions gave nods to history as she feels herself being constantly watched by Communists. It was a bit odd at first since Alex is a young teenager presumably removed from the Cold War by a good twenty years but they do a nice job in showing how her exposure to history plays into these fears. (Though, admittedly, the time isn’t too clear since there’s nothing obviously dating the story that I can think of off the top of my head).
My only complaint in this regard is that I think the narrative took it a tinge too far. There are other characters (not naming names because spoilers) who are not quite right in the head throughout the narrative and it really pushes your suspension of disbelief when you see how much one particular character managed to achieve so much without anyone really catching on. Then again, the whole story is told from Alex’s point of view so this was probably intentional.
I do like many of the characters and the shenanigans they get up to. It was interesting to see how some of the pranks and “hit jobs” the main group carry out. Their interactions were also unique but I could have used more of them.
Now the bad. Though I liked Miles Richter’s character overall, I was often annoyed with him. Some of the things he did fell into the typical YA jerk character category) made all the more upsetting when you realize that he is the romantic lead. I audibly groaned when he and Alex started off their relationship bickering with each other (which is a capital YA sin in my book). The only reason I didn’t condemn his character outright was because, despite his jerk-ness, he was still a fun character and the narrative provided good reasons as to why he acts the way he does. That still didn’t stop me from becoming very annoyed with him from time to time however.
The first third of this book is riddled with a bunch of high school stereotypes. You have the mean girls, the jock-y jerk, and the other possible love interest. Luckily the book doesn’t carry through on the last of these three and add new dimensions to some of the former. Still, the first third of this book was tough to get through because I thought the author was going down that rabbit hole with schizophrenia added in for flavor.
Overall, this was a good book. I would recommend it highly to those who want to explore how schizophrenia is approached in the narrative (especially YA fiction) and the general twists and turns the story took throughout. My personal drawbacks were certain YA tropes but I realize that others would probably not mind them as much as I do. Give it a read if you’re curious.