Author: Brian James
Publication Date: 3/27/12
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Blurb(GR): Sabrina, an artist, is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and her parents check her into the Wellness Center. There she meets Alec, who is convinced it's the world that's crazy, not the two of them. They are meant to be together; they are special. But when Alec starts to convince Sabrina that her treatment will wipe out everything that makes her creative, she worries that she'll lose hold of her dreams and herself. Should she listen to her doctor? her decision may have fatal consequences.
One of the many things that fascinate me about mental disorders is the thought that some of these symptoms that we’ve labeled and classified as illnesses might not be illnesses at all. For most of the twentieth century, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. “Schizophrenia” appears in cultures around the globe, but its manifestations tend to differ from one culture to another – as do the cultural attitudes surrounding it. Our “normal” perception of the world is really just a hallucination created by the brain in response to environmental stimulae, so is it really so strange when someone’s perception is slightly different than the norm? Pondering all of these things was what kept me the most engaged with this book.
Sabrina’s point of view is a very ambitious one to take on – that of a schizophrenic girl. I am in no way qualified to tell you whether this is a realistic portrayal, but I was really impressed. The writing is beautifully descriptive without feeling gratuitous and further than that I think that for a man, the author did an amazing job of writing a realistic teenage girl. I was especially moved by Sabrina’s attitude toward her illness. She’s experienced some form of hallucination since early childhood, so it feels comforting and normal to her. She doesn’t feel right without her hallucinations. And my heart broke a little bit when her parents – who used to be so encouraging of her imaginative games – began to disapprove.
So here's the source of my disappointment: all pondering aside, I guess in the end I do believe that schizophrenia is a mental illness, and that hallucinating your way through the world is quite a bit more dangerous than it is beautiful. I thought that the author and I were on the same page about that for most of this book. When the love interest Alec was introduced – so full of angry convictions – I was fascinated by the idea that Sabrina’s view of him was incorrect. She's so wrapped up in her visions of his glowing eyes and familiar shape and the future that she imagines they've already had together. When you read just his words – his plain words – without any of her extra perceptions, he seems antagonistic and foolish – maybe even a little dangerous. She seems to miss out on who he really is – a confused, violent young man. Or so I assumed, and that assumption fueled a lot of my interest in this book.
And then I got to the ending. (I swear – I should just have that engraved on my tombstone. It would work on so many levels! Okay, maybe just two levels.) The ending is just incredibly unrealistic, in my opinion. Alec proves himself to be everything Sabrina thought he was, even appearing magically at exactly the right time – just as her hallucinations told her he would. Sabrina achieves near perfect lucidity just in time to regret her actions, and of course they all learn a very important lesson. Blah blah blah. I guess I wanted the consequences to be more real, and I didn't want to see Sabrina realize so quickly and easily that she needed help. And I don’t think that schizophrenic hallucinations are likely to lead a person to her soul mate.
However, if you love happy endings and you’d like to read a very well written book from the point of view of a schizophrenic person, I think this would be a great choice. For this old skeptic, it was just okay.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Cate Le Bon - Greta
This is one sad, sad case where a you tube video of the song that I chose does not exist (reviewer problems). And there's no way that I'm picking a different song, because this one is just perfection. Luckily I found it on her myspace page - so click the link above to listen. Cate Le Bon creates eerily beautiful, almost unsettling music. These lyrics are so perfect:
"In the morning
The universe shines
From under her skin
The delicate pattern
Of places she's been
Her baby days
Coiled up inside her
Like ribbons all tied"