Made You Up, by Francesca Zappia

I start 2017 with a review of a book that’s been on my Kindle for a few months. Because I have a Goodreads account, I get periodic notifications when there are special deals on the books on my to-read list. When I got that notification, I immediately snagged myself a digital copy. I’ve wanted to check this book out ever since I learned of it. A YA contemporary about a girl trying to navigate senior year at a new high school and dealing with schizophrenia? What’s not to be intrigued about there? I could use a story with a good unreliable narrator, so here we go.

Narrator Alex starts the story ten years earlier, with an adorable anecdote about wanting to set lobsters free from a supermarket tank. I smirked, thinking about many times my daughters said hello to the lobsters at such tanks. While there, she encounters a little boy with big blue eyes, but he disappears. Since the way Alex tells the story versus how her mother recalls it is very different, we’re left to question what is real. And that’s the way Alex lives her life.

She had to leave a school after her junior year for—without giving away too much detail—defacing school property to express her paranoia. The present-day part of the story takes place at the start of her senior year at another school. Due to her outsider status and her naturally ketchup red hair, she’s already an outcast as soon as she arrives. Or maybe that’s her own paranoia; she does “perimeter checks” to make sure there aren’t any shady characters out to get her, and she takes photos of people to verify later whether they were really there or not.

Because of the incident at her previous school, she’s required to perform community service, which takes the form of an after-school athletic support club, who is responsible for setting up the gym and/or fields for school sports practices and games. This group is led by valedictorian-to-be Miles Richter, who has quite the imposing reputation in school somewhat for his intelligence but more so for the mafia-like “jobs” he gets paid to do by students on other students.

The plot of the book occurs over the full span of senior year, and it contains the usual things you’d expect to find in a high school. There’s a big, buff, bully guy. He’s dating the attractive popular girl that other boys lust for. There’s also a bitchy cheerleader not living up to her mother’s standards. There’s a battle—academically, socially, and romantically (as two corners in a well-drawn love triangle kind of thing)—between the top two kids in the class. Some of it’s predictable, but most of it isn’t. It was definitely enjoyable, but nothing really wowed me. And then there’s the school principal’s bizarre obsession with the gymnasium scoreboard, but I’ll save that for you to experience.

I don’t know if this book correctly portrays people with schizophrenia. I’m not a mental health specialist, and I only know what I know on the topic based on my own research and/or learning from other sources. Someone more versed on the subject—or experiencing the affliction—will have a better handle on the accuracy, kind of the same way I read books and watch TV shows and movies set in high schools that don’t portray teachers correctly. Or the way my father used to gripe at shows set in Boston about not being able to get from one location to another that quickly.

I’m digressing.

I can only judge Alex’s schizophrenia within the confines of the story. At times it felt like a real facet of a real character, but at other times, it felt more like a plot device. The titular thing/person that Alex made up didn’t come as much of a surprise to me as I think the author intended. Some of the others that were revealed were better hidden. But in those cases, it was more interesting to watch Alex discovering what was/wasn’t real than it was figuring them out myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Alex as a narrator—she’s smart, sarcastic, sensitive, stubborn, and seriously wanting to do the right thing. The supporting cast is quirky and charming, and what I took most from this book isn’t a lesson about schizophrenia, but a lesson in human nature. We’re all battling with something (most of the characters in this book are), and we need to understand that about people when interacting with them. And if we truly care about those people, we need to support them.

Made You Up is an enjoyable read with a protagonist that’s worth supporting because she deals with her affliction with caution and bravery. I’m not making it up when I say it deserves FOUR STARS.

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Made You Up is available at Amazon.

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