Review: MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia

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.

What a book. What. A. Book. If you’ve paid attention at all online, you’ve seen that this book has gotten some pretty solid press, including an endorsement by John Green. WELL-EARNED, I SAY!

I’ve never read a book from the point of view of a paranoid schizophrenic before. The whole experience was completely new and disorienting, not to mention claustrophobic. It’s one thing to read a completely tense yet fanciful work of fiction. It’s another to read a story that (as far as I can tell) accurately depicts what life is like for people with altered perception, because there is no walking away. This is REAL.

I literally can’t imagine. Perception is a tricky enough thing to begin with, but add in vivid hallucinations and brain chemistry-induced convictions that people are spying on you, tracking you, trying to poison you, etc.? Oof. Alex copes by taking pictures of things she finds odd. Over time, delusions fade from the photos, leaving only what other people see, but she still has to grapple with reacting (or not reacting) to the delusions in real-time. And since her eyes are our eyes, it’s a very fine line to walk throughout the story. What (and who) is real? What’s only a byproduct of her brain? Is the danger she sees stalking the school hallways real and something that needs to be stopped or just a fantasy that will ruin her life? What real dangers does she ignore thinking they’re all in her own head?

As the reader, it was terrifying to watch as Alex grew close to her new friends at school, because what if they aren’t real? What if her best friend was an illusion? What if the boy she just kissed was someone no one else could see? In the beginning, Alex’s mother comes across as a fairly awful individual. She’s a nagging, overbearing, unsympathetic failure of a parent who is a breath away from shipping Alex off to a mental institution. And while both Alex’s mother and father make some pretty ghastly choices, by the time the story wraps, I… understood. Alex’s mind is the one on the trip, but her parents have to watch her condition worsen and worry whether the next episode will be the one that gets her hurt or even killed.

Alex. Oh man, Alex. Alex is amazing. Alex is smart and tough and funny. She’s a good friend, a great big sister, and tender-hearted as all get-out. She’s also very much a stubborn teenager. She has a temper. She doesn’t always listen. She thinks she knows what’s best even if she doesn’t. As stressful as it was being in her head, it was also a very interesting place to be, especially as it pertained to Miles, not gonna lie. I didn’t always understand or agree with Miles, and he wasn’t exactly the cuddliest character, but he was just as interesting with Alex, and together they were totally shippy. I felt for him. With his background and own disorder, he had a challenging road to walk, just like Alex.

This book is funny, romantic, tense, heartbreaking, and, in parts, terrifying. As someone labeled as neurotypical, Alex’s story really helped me gain a better understanding of what living with her particular strand of neurodiversity might be like. It’s beautifully written and profoundly important. Go. Go now.

Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:

“Are you jealous, Mr. Soggy Potato Salad?”

“Jealous? When I’ve got this?” Tucker whipped off his glasses, bit the tip of the earpiece, and squinted at me. I laughed.

“It’s me?” I said.

“I couldn’t think of anyone else,” he said.

Points Added For: Alex, stunning portrayals of paranoid schizophrenia and alexithymia, making me cry, Charlie, an ultimately positive portrayal of medication, counseling, and mental institutions.

Points Subtracted For: The mystery was really, really confusing; Tucker’s lack of depth.

Good For Fans Of: Contemporary issue books, laughing/crying, neurodiverse stories.

Notes For Parents: Language, heavy making out, bullying, physical abuse against a minor, implied sexual abuse against a minor.

Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.

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3 Responses to Review: MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia

  1. Alexa S. June 8, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

    Made You Up sounds so incredibly unique! I feel like I’d find the entire experience of reading it jarring, but in a way that makes sense with Alex as a character. I’m glad you wound up really liking this one Shae, and I enjoyed your review!
    Alexa S. recently posted…Abbreviations #10 || May MinisMy Profile

    • Shae June 8, 2015 at 10:39 pm #

      Thanks, dear!

  2. Tina July 1, 2015 at 7:33 am #

    I’ve seen some great reviews for this one so I may have to end up checking it out! Good pacing always makes for a hit for me! Fantastic review!!!
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