“Sometimes I think people take reality for granted.”
Alexandra—Alex for short—Ridgemont is a high school senior who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early adolescence. She faces each day armed with her camera, trying to make it through life by differentiating Real, and the world her mind creates as real. After an incident during her junior year, Alex switches schools to East Shoal High, where Real and real get even more tangled than before. She meets Miles, a boy with blue eyes she remembers from her childhood; she remembers how she thought she made him up. With the help of Miles, her younger sister Charlie, and the East Shoal Recreational Athletics Support Club, Alex is determined to live a normal life despite her far from normal circumstances.
The first big thing that drew me to Made You Up: the schizophrenia. I am perhaps the most avid reader of young adult novels with themes of mental disorders. As a sufferer myself, I can easily say that uncontrollable illnesses of the mind are one of the most important topics growing topics in literature that everyone should educate themselves on. YA Lit has a special place in my heart because I (maybe a little biasedly) believe it to hold an unprecedented importance and responsibility in the realm of all literature. So YA + mental disorder = very happy Nicole.
Second thing: the unreliable narrator. I love—and when I say love, I mean L O V E—any story told by a disreputable main character. Questions of reality entice me. What is “real”? Can there exist and absolute black and white when our world is colored by infinite shades of gray? If something is real for someone and unreal for another, as in the case of Alex, does that make said thing any less real in context to others? And what exactly does make a narrator “unreliable”? Impossible to tell, no, no, and who can even be certain; because truthfully, we are all unreliable narrators illustrating life the way our biased eyes and brains perceive it.
All in all, I thought Made You Up was… satisfactory. Good, if you will. Not amazing, not terrible, but just alright. The method to my madness is simple. I finish a book and wait a few days before writing a review to let it all soak in and see what sticks. For a book that I anticipated as highly as this one, much less stuck than I had hoped.
Zappia took a concept that had SO much potential and buried it within a subpar plot: high school. Boy meets girl, boy hates girl, girl gets bullied, school is in complete disarray, boy and girl fall in love, weird bullied girl becomes the heroine who saves the day, and everyone lives happily ever after. Because of this boring backdrop and unnecessary drama, I felt that the schizophrenia was almost… cheapened, if you will. It didn’t receive the recognition it deserved.
At the conclusion, I was left confused over many of the novel’s burning questions. The narration and dialogue made it hard to tell what was actually going on, and during my reading I absolutely hated it; however now I think it’s slightly genius. Whether intentional on Zappia’s part or not, I was experiencing the exact dilemma that Alex, and the countless-some sufferers of schizophrenia face daily: real, or not real? My frustration, while hard to get past, was for all the right reasons. It was an induced schizophrenia of sorts. Appreciation is always better than understanding.
*Semi but not so major spoiler* Another thing that was a HUGE plus for me at the conclusion is what I too seldom see in Mental Disorder Books: self-realization that is followed by the seeking of professional help. It’s so common with books like these for a main character to change schools, fall in love, and work through their problems alone until they’re “cured.” Where that might be real for some, it isn’t real for most. Alex choosing to check herself in at the psychiatric ward was so very important to me because it reinforces the point that getting help is okay; it’s normal! And I really, really love that Francesca Zappia ran with reality instead of following the trend that romanticizes mental illness.
Do I think Made You Up was worth the read? Yes. Do I think it’ll be the best thing you’ll ever come across? Probably not, but don’t take my word for it exactly. Be your own unreliable narrator and choose the means by which you’ll illustrate the world. Create your own truth. Trust me, it’s more fun that way.