(Review was originally published on 07/06/2017)
So, when I set out to read this story, I was given the premise that 1. It was a good story and 2. It was a positive accurate portrayal of mental illness – specifically schizophrenia.
I’ve disclosed before on this blog that I have schizoaffective disorder bipolar type. I’ve been officially diagnosed since 2014 and before this, I was diagnosed as bipolar with PTSD and anxiety disorder. That being said, I have some personal experience with the illness as well as factual knowledge because when I found out, I wanted to make sure I know everything that was happening to me.
You know it would be nice to see something a decent percentage of people suffer from represented in not so much a positive way, but in a realistic way that conveys the realities of living with the symptoms of it.
So that being said, I’d like to say on a personal level… Fuck… This… Book…
We’re going to try something new in which I go in depth about the reasons this book fails on… a lot of fronts -takes a drink- Spoilers, Homie…
“Made You Up” by Francesca Zappia is a slice-of-life #contemporary story of Alexandra “Alex” Ridgemont who thinks it’s super embarrassing that her history buff parents named her and her eight-year-old sister Charlemagne “Charlie” Ridgemont after historical figures. Meh, it’s fine. She is diagnosed as a small child with schizophrenia after hallucinating setting red lobsters free out of her tank with the help of a boy who is dubbed “Blue Eyes” whom she doesn’t see again afterward. See how that’s bold? Yeah, we’re going to get to that. When her mother returns to her, the lobsters were still in the tank alive and well and certainly not red so out of concern rather than assuming Alex had a big imagination, she went for the something wrong with this kid on that instance alone and got her the mental illness starter kit (A diagnosis, pills, and an ingrained fear of being locked away).
Fast forward to the present day (nowhere is the time period hinted at. There’s no mention of smartphones being a regular part of their lives, personal internet in their homes doesn’t seem to exist — they have to research at the library where they’re even more surprised that the computers aren’t on some form of network even though as a library it should be — and, um, absolutely no mentions of social media or selfies. Alex literally takes old Polaroids instead of using her phone which she doesn’t have cause her mom won’t let her have one? I dunno; time period unknown) Alex is now 17 and after a bit of delinquent behavior that is held back until halfway through the book for no plot-relevant reason, she is now forced to leave Hill Park Private School to attend East Shoal High — a public school — and do community service in the “famed” Athletic Support Club!!!! If that sounds strange to you, that’s because it is. Her vandalism is basically being worked off in a staccato paper-thin version of the Breakfast Club where they don’t learn shit.
To add a bit of the dissonance I felt by that, Alex is also being forced to have a job by her mother and therapist to appear “normal”… where she spends her time talking to a Magic 8 Ball you later find out was never real… Gonna just… unpack that later.
But overall she works to help her mother make ends meet as well, she’s trying to work off a big mistake she made, and she has to get used to a whole new school. Sounds like a typical girl in a typical world who has a little something that makes her above average (schizophrenia) and has to face the challenges of being not quite normal in the face of a budding love interest and the prospect of not being alone anymore. Great Premise. Very interesting. You hit Contemporary Teen Bingo! You might wanna pick it up…
But Harli, you said you hated this book…
Let me break down why this book so ratchet!
EAST SHOAL PUBLIC SCHOOL
East Shoal is….
Okay, let me preface this. They are apparently in the middle of bumfuck Indiana (they only dropped the name of the place once and it wasn’t in a context where it could be easily retained) and this place is described as so small that it not only doesn’t show up on the map, but you could pass through it in like 5-10 mins without realizing you’d ever been anywhere different. This might be mistaken for a cornfield type small. Yet in this small… town(?) there are several living districts including a super rundown poor area and a super-rich Beverly Hills-type area where there are literal manors that belong in Fortune 500 or some shit. On top of that, this super small place has a public high school and a private high school that somehow have enough kids to populate them, have full football teams, and perpetuate rivalry in which you have a full stadium…
THE BREAKFAST CLU– ER — ATHLETIC SUPPORT CLUB
Where weak characters fester around a strong character and no I’m not talking about Alex. The club is made up of six… -counts on fingers- yeah six kids.
Jetta: a super special awesome pixy dream girl who is also French and speaks French but who is also multilingual (she speaks like six languages) who also wants to go back to France to become a fashion designer, who is also the most loyal friend to Miles. She’s in the club for… um… reasons that I don’t remember because it was too inconsequential for me to retain. Upon meeting her, Alex (who is obsessed with Nazi and Communists because they scare her) immediately thinks “Foreigner! French Communist Party!” in a way that makes me go “Umm…” because — small history lesson — the French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Francais) were against the Nazis… but, you know… being paranoid about something doesn’t make you learn everything about it I suppose…
Art: A black kid who is here because he was blamed for having weed when he didn’t. Okay. Alex believes she’s hallucinating because his pecs were too big… I bullshit you not —
“I turned to Art, a black kid who was a foot and a half taller than me and whose pecs were about to burst out of his shirt and eat someone. I gave him a two on the delusion detector. I didn’t turst those pecs.”— Made You Up, Page 36
Theo: Theophillia and her brothers Evan and Ian are triplets with Evan and Ian being Identical. This is possible. No problem. I believe it. However, Alex’s reaction to them is
“I know how genetics worked — even normal identical twins didn’t look as identical as Theo’s brothers. My fingers tightened around my camera.”—Made You Up, Page 36
Yeah… I suppose Alex’s reactions are meant to be comical in light of her paranoia and schizophrenia but they just come off as insulting considering this is telling the average reader that these fun, quirky little things are what people like me are constantly concerned about. That these are things one might hallucinate about or have delusions of. (PSA: Delusion and Hallucination are not the same things. This author uses them interchangeably.) It’s just poor execution, not in any way humorous, and falls flat. Again there’s no joke here, just a “lol I see things” type of humor, and Alex… is not… funny…
I wrote that a lot in my notes, I’m not sorry.
These characters are introduced just to pad the club and try to give Alex potential friends. They lack distinctive personalities and pretty much act as… well dummies for Alex and Miles to play off of. They don’t have unique voices and can be interchangeable to the point that you wouldn’t recall who was talking or who did what without flipping back. Basically, they lack in everything that would make them memorable and tolerable outside of “that one guy/chick.” Even at pivotal moments, I couldn’t tell you which of them was doing what. But then there’s my boo… Miles!
Let’s talk about my boi, Miles Richter!
Miles is initially presented as a high IQ’d asshole and is overbearingly mean, which later is explained that he doesn’t actually try to be mean, he simply lacks severely in social skills and doesn’t quite comprehend emotional and social cues from other people. He logically and objectively approaches everything with an unbiased mind and if you don’t conform to logic you are not worth his time. He literally stopped being friends with a kid named Tucker (who I had no desire to go into because he was pretty irrelevant through most of this) simply because to Miles, Tucker had intelligence and potential that he refused to use and wasted it often. He basically does not waste his time on people who do not use their head to further and better themselves. Reasons he’s 99% done with most of the people around him at East Shoal.
This is due to Miles possibly being Autistic but it is never explicitly expressed, which is the saving point. The reader can deduce and theorize but it doesn’t put a label on what’s different about Miles. It’s frankly ashamed that Zappia doesn’t use this method of vaguing the implied illness with Alex’s supposed schizophrenia. Probably would’ve saved… never mind; the only thing that could’ve saved this is if Alex didn’t exist and the book was about my man Miles
Miles is a Ride or Die, no fucks given, goal-oriented badass who is both relatable and easy to sympathize with. He’s the strongest, most solid, and believable character in this story. His possible autism doesn’t define him, his abuse doesn’t define him (which this could’ve easily been a road taken and ruined him) and most importantly, he doesn’t let what he comes from and what he’s doing color how he treats Alex before and after he realizes he likes her. He loves her and respects her as a person and he is phenomenal as a significant other and goddammit why wasn’t this book about him!!!
RIP Miles. Sorry, you began and ended in this garbage fire of a book
this… bitch… here…
Alex, as a person who suffers from schizophrenia, pisses me off a bit in that I know enough about the facts of my illness, the facts of symptoms, and the facts of the treatment for it. Actually, it would probably piss off anyone who did a ten-minute google search but… hmmph. Coupled with having the illness mentioned, I (and so many others who have read and wanted to burn this book) really can only say that this is completely unrealistic and honestly undermines it. Yes, relating to the goings-on is fine. Nothing wrong with that. But what’s been happening is that normal people are reading Alex as the generalized version of what being schizophrenic is like and are saying “oh, I get it now, so this is how I should handle this and oh my god, therapists and hospitals are AWFUL!” It, in essence, dumbed down a completely serious illness into a quirky gimmick for adding the “not like other girls” trait to Alex. Granted it did its job and hooked me into reading it, but it didn’t keep me. It insults the people who have it, the people who work with it, and the people who spend their lives studying and trying to understand it.
But back on topic.
Alex is quite literally ruled and defined by her illness throughout the book, but never quite suffers from it as you expect or faces the real challenges and consequences of it. She is depicted as having hallucinations and delusions but it is very often mild. She hallucinates about silly things like squirrels, Magic 8 Balls, and a phoenix that follows her home from school overhead. Most disconcerting is that she hallucinates a lot, like to the point where someone who has been living with it for a while would consider a change in medication (since it’s obviously not helping) or perhaps some more serious help. She has major, long-term hallucinations which don’t make sense in the context of the story such as:
The Magic 8 Ball – She’s been hallucinating her interactions with this thing since she started working there and apparently visibly interacted with it. However, no one once at her job slid up to Alex and went “hey what are you doing?” when she was playing with the 8-ball that wasn’t there.
She hallucinates the phoenix flying over her every day after school.
She hallucinates her dead sister Charlie for 4 years
bonus: her parents played along with it for the entire four years even though Charlie was dead and the mother often admonishes her for her hallucinations in the book under the guise of concern
Bonus: somehow in that entire four years, no one has called Alex out on her “interacting” with thin air until now
This was a poorly built plot device and had absolutely no emotional impact because you could already tell Charlie wasn’t real from her first introduction. Because of how little you are able to connect with Alex and how Charlie and her relationship with Alex aren’t really developed enough for you to even be shocked and awed by the cheap plot twist, you can’t really feel for her.
-Sighs- I can’t tell if the people who interact with Alex are willfully ignorant not to have already noticed Alex was strange or just intentionally written that way as a means to show that most people wouldn’t know a person with a mental illness even if they saw one. Either way, it’s bad execution.
The illness is also used as a deus ex machina in that it somehow acts as premonitions and such… which brings me to my next point of what the actual fuck:
Alex’s psychosis gives her superpowers!
She hallucinates Miles as a beaten-up lake monster — even smells the pond scum — and later we find out Miles was almost drowned by his stepfather in a lake.
She hallucinates the original cheerleader who died from the falling scoreboard as #meangirl’s mother and the conversations they have lead to plot relevant discoveries and eventualities. Turns out the dead cheerleader is #meangirl’s mother. Dun-dun-dun!!!
She hallucinates conversations between said ghost mom and the psycho principal causing her to figure out that the principal is going to try and kill someone…
Deus Ex go fuck yourself!
So Alex, as far as her illness, is so ill-thought out that I’m pretty sure she was not thought out at all and very poorly researched (though this is questionable since the author admits to never having experience with schizophrenia in any form and that if there were inaccuracies in her portrayal her agent, editor, or publisher would’ve probably caught it. Not gonna touch that) Doesn’t help that this story was initially started when the author was 10… This portrayal is littered with stereotypes and most assuredly what an unknowledgeable person would assume the illness to be, especially in how its handled by her family and therapist in the end. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.
Authors, please do your research when working on something like this. Save a life.
Alex as a person/character is really only her illness. She has no unique, definitive traits nor a standalone personality outside of the “crazy girl.” All you could say about Alex is that “Nazi’s and Commies are scary” and “I see shit” you don’t know her hobbies, you don’t know what kind of things she likes, her goals, or even what she wants to become. She is simply a doll being used as a plot device which is often a role delegated to a side character, not the main protagonist. You don’t even know what motivates her to get better or try to be “normal” as she puts it other than she’s afraid of being institutionalized which doesn’t work that way. She doesn’t even really show herself as… well… Anything. Until Miles! Miles is the only thing that brings her into significance.
Well, Harli, she likes photography!
No, she doesn’t. She takes pictures to make sure she’s not hallucinating something which is proven not to work… at all…
Not even going to go into the subplots but all-in-all she and others in this story are less characters and more caricatures of ideals and stereotypes. Except for Miles, you can’t tell me shit about Miles other than he suffers from Third Act Syndrome. He could’ve carried this entire story on his own.
WRITING/STRUCTURE/STORY BLAH BLAH BLAH
If you choose to read this book, you should not go into this believing this is an accurate (meaning factual and not just relatable to personal experience) portrayal of schizophrenia or any mental disorder related to it. It is not factual in how it’s handled. Keep that in mind and don’t use it as a guide on how to interact with your buddy who floats off into hallucinations every now and then.
So you might choose to read this hot mess, go right ahead! You might like it, you might enjoy it, you might love Miles as much as I did or absolutely hate him. But it’s your choice… just like it’s my choice to call this a waste of time.
It’s badly planned, has too many subplots with no proper payoff, drags terribly at points, and is so inconsistent from the plot to the characterizations. Not to mention poorly researched… again. Alex’s attempts at humor are terribly unfunny and come off as just her saying something to be edgy. Honestly, with some rewrites, editing, fact-checking, and more time devoted to it, it could’ve been a good story. Hell, a damn good story.
But it’s not… this is what we got…
It’s god-awful. Never going to revisit Alex and Miles again… unless Miles gets his own stand-alone novel. WRITE THAT! Jesus.
I’m sorry guys, this one gets an F on the grading scale. Solid F. I don’t really have the desire to read anything else by her in the future because of it.
“Made You Up” could’ve used a little more therapy…
I’ve been so mad at this book since she rec’d it and I just will not let that shit go. -breathes in and breathes out- woo-saaaa
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