Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
Published May 19th 2015 by Greenwillow Books
Review copy received from the publisher
Although I rarely read contemporary young adult books, I tend to make exceptions for books concerning mental illness. There is something so fascinating about people whose minds work in a different way from a “normal” person’s. Made You Up combines all of the elements I enjoy in this kind of fiction.
Alex has troubles discerning what is real. Are there trackers in her food? Are the Nazi’s coming to get her? Is there really a phoenix flying over the town of Hannibal’s Rest? And is the boy whom she liberated lobsters with when she was seven really standing in front of her?
Alex is the ultimate unreliable narrator. Because of her schizophrenia she cannot know what is real and what isn’t. She tries to make pictures of things she’s unsure about, and she checks them from time to time to see if they changed. Through the course of the book she sees some pretty weird things, and although many of them aren’t real, some of them are.
What makes this book a lot more fun to me is that although Alex is unstable, she is not a black sheep among white ones. At her new school, there are plenty of misfits of one way or another, and in a way, she blends in. It’s not Alex versus the world, but a more complex situation. She finds friends, and even falls in love with a guy, Miles.
Miles is hard to like at first, and Alex doesn’t like him at all. Throughout the story, however, they slowly become closer and closer to each other. Instead of using the boring cop-out of “I hated his guts but damn is he hot”, Ms Zappia gave the characters more time to develop something genuine. If you’re someone who needs their love interests to be perfect nice guys, you probably won’t like the romance in Made You Up. Miles is flawed, just like Alex is, and although their romance is unconventional in many ways, they’re a perfect fit.
Made You Up is a long book, and I think it could have been shorter. Although the added length gives you more time to get into the story and get attached to the characters, it kind of dilutes the emotional punch. Contemporaries tend to be short for a reason. The added padding of Made You Up wasn’t boring in the least, but it stood in the way of the potential it had to be truly emotional.
Although it’s hard for me to judge how the author treats the theme of schizophrenia (since I’m neither a sufferer nor a psychologist), I love how she didn’t make it a clear-cut black and white situation. Medication, the role of parents, the internal struggle of Alex, the possibility of having to go to a mental hospital… All of them are handled in a respectful and meaningful way. It keeps you guessing to the very last page what is real and what isn’t.
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.