Monday, February 12, 2018

Heather Reviews: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Title:  Made You Up
Author:  Francesca Zappia
Released:  2015
Publisher:  Greenwillow Book
Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up.

I am a Schizophrenic. I don't tell you this or open with it so you'll cite my review; I tell you it to say that, for nearly half my life, I have had intimate experience with the illness this book tries to talk about.

So, yeah: I don't talk about it much outside of my close, personal friends, but I am not ashamed of it. If you knew me well enough, long enough, it would come up because it's a fact about me, like how my hair is a gold-ish color or I'm perpetually on a diet because I've struggled with my weight all my life. I am a Schizophrenic.

When a piece of media says it'll be portraying mental illness, I get cautiously optimistic because they've never gotten it right before but times are changing now, and if they get it wrong, and enough people call them out, someone's likely to apologize and, maybe next time, someone else will do it better. However, I look at the review page for this book and see glowing praise and reviews for a book that hideously screws up a mental illness, that repeatedly makes the implication that Schizophrenics should be in an institution, even if it's for just a tick, and that even Schizophrenics themselves feel this way, because they're such a hassle to deal with.

There are a few reviews around, thankfully, that point out how awful this book is in its depiction of Schizophrenia. But from my minor time poking my head into the reviews, I didn't get to see whether or not anyone who actually suffered from Schizophrenia wrote a review of this book. So, let me do the honors.

The first thing I seemed to notice about this book, well apart from the glaring inaccuracies, was the anti-medication attitude:
"My medication helped sometimes. I knew it was working when the world wasn’t as colorful and interesting as it normally was. [...] 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 backward."
"Who are you to lecture me on being happy? You’re the one taking your pills and all those stupid pictures, hoping the world doesn’t go to hell when you finally slip up and someone finds out you’re crazy."
The first quote is courtesy of the main character, Alex. The second is courtesy her LOVE INTEREST, Miles. Does he not seem charming?

Oh, boy, oh, boy, where to begin...

Do you know what the world actually is on my medication? (Which is Geodon because I know you're probably wondering and doubting me.) Better: I'm less paranoid and delusional; I can go out to my mailbox without genuinely believing that someone will try to kidnap, beat, or kill me; I can relax in my house without believing that someone isn't living in the ceiling (Which I believed even though I have no proof of!); I can relax in my room without believing that my computer which does not have a camera in it and cannot connect to the internet right now is spying on me and I have to be on my best behavior because everyone can see me; I can hold conversations with other people without believing that they can read my thoughts; I CAN GO ABOUT MY DAY WITHOUT BELIEVING THAT YOU, RANDOM READER, (YES, YOU, I AM SPEAKING STRAIGHT TO YOU READING THIS) KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I'M DOING BECAUSE SOMEONE, SOMEHOW, IS BROADCASTING MY LIFE TO THE WORLD (Read up on the Truman Show Delusion sometime. As many of us have it, you'd think we'd be onto something and yet...); I can pick up the phone without believing that the FBI is calling to tell me I'm in trouble for something even though I know that I have never committed a crime and that is not how they do things.

And those are just a very few of my delusions, the ones I feel comfortable telling you about. My illness is hell on me.

So Alexandra (the Great, but she'll remind you often enough in case you forget) only presents the positive symptoms of visual hallucinations throughout the entire novel. Oh, sure, we'll get the "~Communists and Nazis~" (which was kinda spot on for 2017, btw), but other than that, and a few throwaway lines about checking her food for trackers, all she does is visually hallucinate. A lot. Visual hallucinations are so rare, I can give you the exact dates I've had them, they're that rare. (Halloween was the last time and I was super duper stressed out.)

Aural hallucinations are much more common and I have those tons (they get better on those ~gray out the world~ pills though), but again, Alex treats them like they're the visual hallucinations or something. I think about twice in the novel Alex would go, "did you hear that?" to someone and they'd say, "are you sure that's what you heard?"

I have to wonder at the amount of research that went into this because I counted quite a few times "hallucination" and "delusion" (as in the words) were used interchangeably.
"I gave him a two on the delusion detector. I didn’t trust those pecs."
"My delusions became more frequent in the dark. More than once when I was little, I heard voices coming from beneath my bed, claws reaching up around the mattress to get me."
"I’d gotten it out before I realized that her burning hair was not a delusion."
"I turned and saw the python there, its tongue flicking out at me. I rolled my eyes. I didn’t have time for this. Damn delusions needed to leave me the hell alone."
And those are just a few examples, the ones I got when I searched "delusion" on my Kindle.

Those two terms are not interchangeable. If I'm delusional about people living in my ceiling, I believe there are people up there no matter what evidence I have against it (which is viciously annoying); if I hear murmuring coming from my brother's room, go in there to ask him to turn his TV down and discover no one is in there and no electronics are on, it's still very annoying, but I know, "hey, okay, that was just an aural hallucination!"

Another thing, Alex is remarkably coherent in both thought and speech for a Schizophrenic. The book is written in first person, so... there's kinda no excuse there. We're in her head the entire time this novel is going on and she's very calm and collected, she's never got a rush of thoughts she just can't seem to shut up or stop. (Even the time she hallucinated bloody Miles attacking her, she was still quite collected.) Her speech is always clear and organized; there's never any verbal salad going on.

She doesn't suffer from emotional flatness, which is a sucky thing. When I go to the doctor, they don't believe I'm "reacting correctly" and really question whether or not I'm in the amount of pain I say I'm in. I just have trouble showing it. When you speak to me face-to-face, my expression is usually -_-. Not because I'm bored or not paying any attention to you but because I have a lot of trouble making my face do anything else. If you say something funny or sad or something, I'll react, of course, but my expression and tone are pretty neutral otherwise. It's not my fault or yours, it's just something that happens.

Schizophrenics typically don't like forming new relationships, yet she actively pursues a relationship with Miles even though he's a grade-A jerkwad (and, IDK if it's a combo of Schizophrenia and being an introvert, but when I think of meeting other people I think "no." It's not that I hate my fellow humans, I just really, really do not want to form new relationships. I just don't like it), she has no problem taking care of herself until the book goes, "It's hard being mentally ill," and then she's suddenly shown lazing around the house, unable to do anything for herself. ...Which I guess again ties into my "why is this book so anti-medication?" rant from above.

And did you know that Schizophrenia is known to impact cognitive abilities? Which affect learning and memory? I consider myself a bright cookie, but even I'll admit to struggling with my memory sometimes because of my illness. (So much so that sometimes I genuinely worry I might have early onset Alzheimer's. I don't, and what I'm trying to remember will usually come back to me after a minute or two of REALLY REALLY trying to remember it.)  Not Alex , though! Never fear; she can rattle off all the things her parents taught her from ages ago and it's so impressive. There is not thing one wrong with her memory.

The book never gives an answer about the medication thing: "The world isn't as bright," "Sometimes I don't like the side effects." Well, Geodon messes with my menstrual cycle, causes breast tenderness, can greatly impact my heart, gives me intense muscle spasms including facial tics, and I have such bad bruising on it, among other things but I'd rather be on it than paranoid and delusional about the entire world and unable to enjoy my life.

Plus? Why is Alex's mother forcing her daughter to take pills if she doesn't know the last time she took them? This happened I think two or three times in the book:
"She stormed into the bathroom and returned with my prescription bottle, thrusting it into my hands. "Take them. Now.""
"I’m glad you’re home." She stood from the couch and held out her hand. "I didn’t realize you’d be out so late— you need to take this." She gave me a pill.
You don't do this. You don't do this with any kind of medication and if you're unsure of when you took it last, you're supposed to wait until the next appointed time to take it and take it then. (Trust me: I'm on enough medication not just for mental/emotional issues. I don't play with my medication.) Her mother could've been responsible for an overdose all because she cared too much.

I also, as I mentioned above, don't like the whole, "well, if you're Schizophrenic, you kinda have to spend time in an institution, right?" vibe that seems to go on in the book.

I can't let up on that grievance with the medication taking. At one point, Alex tosses a pill bottle across the room. The only time we see her taking her medication is when her mother is forcing her to. Schizophrenia is a lifelong illness, so no; I will not just magically wake up one day no longer believing that the FBI will call me, people live in my ceiling, people live in the (VERY TINY) woods outside my house (that I can see through to the road) and want to hurt me, so I have to take my medication every day. But Alex is rarely if ever shown taking her medication and she expects to no longer see hallucinations? And then in one later scene, Miles has the nerve to scream at her parents that Alex needs "stronger meds."

Look: There's no such thing. There's higher dosage, but there's only different medicine. And the only way to know whether or not Alex's medicine was actually working for her would be for her to take it. She hasn't been. If they had stopped working for her, that's okay; sometimes that happens on medication. For anything. But Alex hasn't been shown to take it, so how would anyone know whether or not this is even working for her, much less that she needs "stronger" meds?

Not to mention that, as a psychiatry patient, I have to go back for appointments every two weeks to a month. I have to have blood drawn, sometimes I have to have EKGs done because of the medication I'm currently on. Psychiatric medication is serious business and, if the medication wasn't working, they would've encouraged her parents (or Alex but we've seen how well she responds to help) to call and talk to them about it. However, we never see Alex attend an appointment (more on that in a bit), much less have lab work done or go in for check ups as to how well her medication is working, how she's feeling, etc.

I'm, again, just saying this is something very serious that has a lot of working parts and here has been reduced to its barest for drama. The book just treats living with this very serious and sometimes very annoying illness as if life is normal until it needs to be dramatic or funny and then you'll see things or hear voices and not know what's real.

Another thing: I'm not in therapy for my illness (I would've liked to be; it's offered at the place I go for my health. Lord knows I need it for my anxiety), but the way this book approaches therapy/therapists... It's NAGL. It treats them like therapists exist only to take freedom away from people will mental illnesses, even though we never see Alex attend a single therapy session, so we never know anything about her therapist or how these sessions go. She refers to her therapist as the "Gravedigger" (because her last name is Graves, har har~) and every time she so much as thinks of Graves you can expect her to be thought of in the lowest terms possible.

What is this book's actual deal?

I guess, after taking up my grievances with the medical inaccuracies of this book, I could review the rest of it.

So Alex, obsessed with Communists and Nazis, is kicked out of her old school for spray painting "communists" on the gym floor and goes to East Shoal, where, a day before school begins, she meets the valedictorian (side note: I was friends with my class' salutatorian and valedictorian and up until like two weeks before graduation, they didn't know which one of the two would be which. Also, the speeches at the end, I had got to help my best friend, the salutatorian, write her speech and she was not allowed to refer to teachers, students, classes, etc. She was just supposed to say some encouraging mumbo jumbo and leave. Sorry, I can't suspend my disbelief for that either, once you know how things work, you just kinda can't) who decides to make her life awful for no reason. Naturally, she instantly loves him.

Since she was kicked out of her old school, she's forced to do some after school community service with Miles, where he watches her, is terse with her, and writes her off... for a bit. And then, their relationship changes and he recognizes her genius and they're in love.

Alex's best friend and East Shoal's salutatorian, Tucker, doesn't like this because he and Miles got into an argument back in seven grade. He's very distrustful of Miles and tells Alex to stay away from her all the time.

Anyway, Alex goes to a party one night, hallucinates a bloody Miles attacking her, Miles guesses she's ill (instead of she's been drugged), but, even though he's dedicated to making her life awful, he won't tell a soul. Later Alex finds out that Miles is poor, his dad's abusive, and his mother's bipolar.

I never tell anyone not to read a book because I didn't like it, even if I strongly disagree with the beliefs held in it, thus, if you've read through my whole entire review, I'm not telling you not to read it. By all means do and make up your own mind, but also remember this does not represent Schizophrenia at all. It represents Schizophrenia as much as not being able to bend your elbow represents dealing with Ebola. And if you're reading it for the other stuff, well, cheers, but as I said I didn't enjoy that either.

(BTW: Please don't friend me to talk to me about Schizophrenia: As I stated above it's part of who I am but it doesn't define me and, since I'm adverse to new relationships, I will not talk to you about my illness any more than I've done here. Thanks.)

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