ARC Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Made You Up by Francesca ZappiaAuthor:  Francesca Zappia

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mental Illness

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Publication Date: May 19, 2015

448 pages, Hardcover (326 ARC)

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

Shout out to the wonderful Little Shop of Stories for letting me take this ARC! Check them out if you’re ever in Decatur, GA!

Alex just wants to free the lobsters. When Alex was seven, she freed the lobsters at the supermarket with the help of a boy with blue eyes, who disappeared almost as quickly as he appeared. Her mother never mentioned him, and it was soon after that Alex found out she has paranoid schizophrenia. But when Alex is 17, she meets the boy again at school and he is definitely real. Right?

This book was brilliant, you guys. It’s the perfect kind of unreliable narrator – Alex has hallucinations and delusions and she never quite knows if what she is seeing is real, so how are we meant to? Alex takes pictures of her life to prove to herself later that what she saw was real and if it doesn’t disappear from the photo, it really was there. Alex is the heart of this story and she is fascinating. She deals with what life’s given her as best as she can, and she’s tough and sarcastic because of it. I think she felt even more real because she isn’t always likable. There were times I wanted to shake her and that made her so realistic. I have always been fascinated with the brain and mental illness, and I was totally absorbed in learning about Alex’s paranoid schizophrenia.

And then there’s Miles, the boy with the blue eyes. He’s got his own issues; he sells himself out to complete sometimes stupid and sometimes dangerous tasks for people at their high school. He’s a bit arrogant and a bit of a jerk sometimes, but he’s also vulnerable and it’s easy to fall a bit in love with him, but I appreciated the fact that the romance doesn’t take a front seat to Alex and her struggle with mental illness. Plus, he’s not exactly your typical love interest.

All of the characters in Made You Up felt fully fleshed, not just Alex and Miles – the principle who has a weird obsession with the school’s scoreboard, mean girl Celia whose mother seems to be forcing her to be that way, Miles’ friends and Alex’s little sister and parents. Zappia does an amazing job with her characters and none of them felt pointless or two-dimensional.

I won’t give it away, but OH MY GOODNESS, the twist! I was NOT expecting that. Zappia is definitely really good with misdirection, which is why her unreliable narrator is so freaking well-done. One thing that kind of bothered me was the end, which felt a little rushed, but it didn’t really change my feelings toward this book.

The bottom line: Made You Up is an addictive, compelling story that is both wonderfully written and absolutely fascinating. I could give you a whole bunch of other adjectives to describe how much I liked this book, or I could just say this: READ THIS NOW.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

Book Review: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

The Chance You Won't ReturnTitle: The Chance You Won’t Return

Author: Annie Cardi

Genre: YA, Contemporary

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: April 2014

Hardback: 344 pages

Stand alone or series: Standalone

How did I get this book: Borrowed from the library

 

Let’s start with a brief synopsis:

When your mom thinks she’s Amelia Earhart, navigating high school, first love, and family secrets is like flying solo without a map.

Driver’s ed and a first crush should be what Alex Winchester is stressed out about in high school – and she is. But what’s really on her mind is her mother. Why is she dressing in Dad’s baggy khaki pants with a silk scarf around her neck? What is she planning when she pores over maps in the middle of the night? When did she stop being Mom and start being Amelia Earhart? Alex tries to keep her budding love life apart from the growing disaster at home as her mother sinks further into her delusions. But there are those nights, when everyone else is asleep, when it’s easier to confide in Amelia than it ever was to Mom. Now, as Amelia’s flight plans become more intense, Alex is increasingly worried that Amelia is planning her final flight – the flight from which she never returns. What could possibly be driving Mom’s delusions, and how far will they take her?

What I thought:

I thought that the relationship between Alex and her mother was wonderfully delicate and well-done. Like most teenagers, Alex doesn’t get along with her mother, but as her mother’s mental state deteriorates (which I also thought was wholly believable and well-executed), Alex finds herself able to talk to her mother more and discuss what is happening in her life. The only problem is that her mother doesn’t know Alex is her daughter; she believes she’s Amelia Earhart and that Alex is a great female pilot, part of her Ninety-Nines. Cardi handles the deterioration of the mom’s mental health with great care, and thought I don’t know too much about this kind of mental illness, it felt realistic and authentic.

Let me talk a little about Alex though. She got on my last nerve. Alex is terrified of driving: she has a deep phobia that makes her freeze up and unable to breathe when she gets behind the wheel. The phobia has come from a variety of things, but mostly it has stemmed from almost being hit by a car as a child. This phobia was understandable, and I know that phobias like this do exist so it wasn’t this that I didn’t like. In her driver’s ed class, she is unable to stop the car and runs over part of the football field. Understandably, a lot of people, especially the football players, are angry with her. So people say mean things to her, pick on her, etc., and after like TWO DAYS, she says this:

Until I’d messed up the football field, no one had bothered me at school. When I was on the soccer team, I’d been almost popular. Now all people did was bother me and I was sick of it. –Page 85

Oh, shut up! It had been just a couple of days. Cry me a river. I used to be popular, and now people hate me. She’s like this for a lot of the book. She has a group of really supportive friends, but she doesn’t tell them anything about her mother because she’s afraid they’ll think less of her or something stupid like that. They’re your best friends!! Also, her romance with Jim Wiley (which was weird in and of itself) develops quickly and he tells her all about his past, but she feels like she can’t tell him anything and that he doesn’t want to be her boyfriend. I just thought that Alex’s confidence issues were weird and didn’t make a lot of sense. I will say that I appreciated the fact that Cardi did not trivialize Alex’s problems: while she was kind of annoying and strange, she did feel a lot like a real teenager.

I want to talk a little about the mental illness issue. I don’t know what it says about me, but I have always been interested in the mind and mental illnesses, so I was fascinated by Alex’s mom’s illness. It was something completely unusual that I’d never really heard of. It captivated me and felt completely real. I enjoyed getting to know more about Amelia Earhart, who was an amazing woman.

I’m going to have a little rant here. Feel free to skip it if you want. There is a character named Edward who is prematurely balding. Alex and her friend Maddie joke that he is going to have a comb-over by graduation. Maddie gags and says, “Oh, God, at least we’ll have those funny hats to wear. He can cover it up so the rest of us don’t vomit.” (page 222) Excuse my language, but fuck you. That is not funny and it is hurtful. How can a book that deals so delicately with mental illness make fun of something else that people can’t help? It’s not funny, and I am tired of books, movies, and TV shows that think it’s okay to make fun of baldness. All these jokes are doing is making children (and adults) think it’s okay to say horrible things about their peers who have no hair. I know this doesn’t have much to do with the book, as it’s only one line, but it pissed me off.

The bottom line:

I thought this book dealt extremely well with mental illness and Alex’s phobia of driving. Alex herself was a little annoying at times, though she seemed a lot like a real teenager. I don’t know if it was quite as powerful as I wanted it to be though.

Rating: 7 – Pretty good

Reading next: Paradigm by Ceri A. Lowe

Book Review: The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder

The Museum of Intangible ThingsTitle: The Museum of Intangible Things

Author: Wendy Wunder

Genre: YA, Contemporary

Publisher: Razor Bill

Publication Date: April 2014

Hardback: 292

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Borrowed from the library

Let’s start with a brief synopsis:

Loyalty. Envy. Obligation. Dreams. Disappointment. Fear. Negligence. Coping. Elation. Lust. Nature. Freedom. Heartbreak. Insouciance. Audacity. Gluttony. Belief. God. Karma. Knowing what you want (there is probably a French word for it). Saying Yes. Destiny. Truth. Devotion. Forgiveness. Life. Happiness (ever after).

Hannah and Zoe haven’t had much in their lives, but they’ve always had each other. So when Zoe tells Hannah she needs to get out of their down-and-out New Jersey town, they pile into Hannah’s beat-up old Le Mans and head west, putting everything—their deadbeat parents, their disappointing love lives, their inevitable enrollment at community college—behind them.

As they chase storms and make new friends, Zoe tells Hannah she wants more for her. She wants her to live bigger, dream grander, aim higher. And so Zoe begins teaching Hannah all about life’s intangible things, concepts sadly missing from her existence—things like audacity, insouciancekarma, and even happiness.

What I thought:

Fair warning: This is not your typical YA road trip novel. I don’t want you to expect it to be something it’s not. I’m glad that I knew that it dealt A LOT with mental illness before I started, because it wasn’t what I expected from the cover and blurb, and I think I would have been a little taken aback at first when I found out.

This book was weird – it made me feel weird and the prose was weird. But I didn’t NOT like it, if that makes sense. I’m glad I read it and I flew through it pretty quickly.

It’s not a typical road trip that these two best friends have. Zoe is having one of her episodes that comes with being bi-polar. She is too amped up and with her mind focused on some very grandiose ideas, she feels she has to get away from her life and road trip across the country. Hannah is not getting what she wants out of life, so she decides to go with her best friend to both get away from her life and to protect Zoe. Their friendship was a little one-sided to me: Hannah cares deeply about Zoe and protects her constantly. But then it was strange because Hannah could tell that Zoe was spiraling but instead of doing something about it, she just says yes to everything Zoe wants to do even if it is dangerous and not a good idea. I just found myself wishing that what the characters decided to do was completely opposite from what they actually did. I don’t know if maybe that was the point, that they were doing the wrong things, but it was weird.

Then we have the characters themselves. I thought Zoe was fascinating. Well-developed, well-done, fun, real. I think that Wunder dealt with her mental illness in a realistic and serious way. I thought she was mesmerizing. You don’t really read that many books that deal with this, that have characters who have bi-polar disorder, so I really liked it because of that. I think her illness is what drives the story. But it was also really hard to read because of the subject matter, as I’m sure you can imagine. I just wanted her to get help, but she didn’t want it, and Hannah tries but gives up as soon as Zoe says no.

So… Hannah. She’s our narrator so we see everything from her point of view. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book where the narrator was so undeveloped. I’m not really sure how that happened. We get to know what is happening in her life, but Zoe is the focus so we don’t actually know Hannah. I thought she was too passive, too agreeable to Zoe’s foolish ideas. One of the characters that I genuinely loved was Zoe’s little brother, Noah. He’s a charming little boy with Asperger’s; this is where the museum of intangible things comes in: Zoe sets up a display for emotions like pride and sloth. I thought this was a uniquely creative idea and I enjoyed Noah’s character. Zoe continues to use this idea on her road trip with Hannah by teaching her new emotions she feels she needs to know so she can grow (like insouciance, or not giving a shit).

The writing style just wasn’t what I was expecting. I found myself really really enjoying it at times and then feeling strange about it other times. Let me give you a quote or two to show you some of the parts I loved:

She’s like a bullet just waiting for someone to pull a trigger. –Page 2

I’m not convinced she’s bipolar. I just think she’s more alive than the rest of us. –Page 9

The bottom line:

This book was weird. I liked it and I didn’t. I would recommend it to anyone who likes contemporary novels that are a little more serious or if you are interested in learning more about bi-polar disorder.

Rating: 6.5 – I really don’t know what to rate this.

Reading next: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi