So, when I set out to read this story, I was given the premise that 1. It was a good story and 2. It was a positive accurate portrayal of mental illness – specifically schizophrenia.
I’ve disclosed before on this blog that I have schizoaffective disorder bipolar type. I’ve been officially diagnosed since 2014 and before this, I was diagnosed as bipolar with PTSD and anxiety disorder. That being said, I have some personal experience in the illness as well as factual knowledge because when I found out, I wanted to make sure I know everything that was happening to me.
You know it would be nice to see something a decent percentage of people suffer from represented in not so much a positive way, but in a realistic way that conveys the realities of living with the symptoms of it.
So that being said, I’d like to say on a personal level… Fuck… This… Book…
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist and here comes a review of…
We’re going to try something new in which I go in depth about the reasons this book fails on… a lot of fronts -takes a drink- Spoilers, Homie…
“Made You Up” by Francesca Zappia is a slice of life #contemporary story of Alexandra “Alex” Ridgemont who thinks it’s super embarrassing that her history buff parents named her and her eight-year-old sister Charlemagne “Charlie” Ridgemont after historical figures. Meh, it’s fine. She is diagnosed as a small child with schizophrenia after hallucinating setting red lobsters free out of her tank with the help of a boy who is dubbed “Blue Eyes” whom she doesn’t see again afterward. See how that’s bold? Yeah, we’re going to get to that. When her mother returns to her, the lobsters were still in the tank alive and well and certainly not red so out of concern rather than assuming Alex had a big imagination, she went for the something wrong with this kid on that instance alone and got her the mental illness starter kit (A diagnosis, pills, and an ingrained fear of being locked away).
Fast forward to present day (nowhere is the time period hinted at. There’s no mention of smart phones being a regular part of their lives, personal internet in their homes doesn’t seem to exist — they have to research at the library where they’re even more surprised that the computers aren’t on some form of network even though as a library it should be — and, um, absolutely no mentions of social media or selfies. Alex literally takes old Polaroids instead of using her phone which she doesn’t have cause mom won’t let her have one? I dunno; time period unknown) Alex is now 17 and after a bit of delinquent behavior that is held back until half way through the book for no plot-relevant reason, she is now forced to leave Hill Park Private School to attend East Shoal High — a public school — and do community service in the “famed” Athletic Support Club!!!! If that sounds strange to you, that’s because it is. Her vandalism is basically being worked off in a staccato paper thin version of the Breakfast Club where they don’t learn shit.
To add a bit of the dissonance I felt by that, Alex is also being forced to have a job by her mother and therapist to appear “normal”… where she spends her time talking to a Magic 8 Ball you later find out was never real… Gonna just… unpack that later.
But overall she works to help her mother make ends meet as well, she’s trying to work off a big mistake she made, and she has to get used to a whole new school. Sounds like a typical girl in a typical world who has a little something that makes her above average (schizophrenia) and has to face the challenges of being not quite normal in the face of a budding love interest and the prospect of not being alone anymore. Great Premise. Very interesting. You hit Contemporary Teen Bingo! You might wanna pick it up…
But Harli, you said you hated this book…
Let me break down why this book so ratchet!
Alex’s mother and father are historians, her father, in particular, being an archeologist while her mother’s occupation is never clarified that I can remember. Her father travels the fucking world like a mild-mannered Indiana Jones and her little sister is a gifted violinist whom they home school. Alex herself was homeschool to a certain point before her therapist thought it was a good idea to send her to real school and mommy supported it though it’s never stated that it was what Alex wanted (those two are just full of good ideas on how to deal with Alex’s schizophrenia). This led to Alex being in Private school in the first place. Yet… somehow they are so broke that they must give secondhand gifts at Christmas time, can barely afford $70 dollars for the East Shoal uniform and Mom takes three-quarters of Alex’s part-time paycheck just to help with living expenses…
Let that sink in…
So now that we discover that the author either doesn’t know how money works in real life or hoped no one else did, it simply comes off as a very disingenuine and not well thought out means to make us feel sorry for Alex and her struggles as a #poor teen and to emphasize that she’s having a hard time. Here’s the thing about that, Alex is meant to be struggling with what is widely considered a disability and is heavily stigmatized and discriminated against. That in itself should’ve been enough without breaking out the sad violin played by the starving artist on the corner. Adding this… mess merely suits to confuse the reader and doesn’t exactly invoke a feeling of “damn Alex is a good girl in a bad situation…” cause… I mean you don’t know what the hell she’s in, in all honesty…
The inconsistencies don’t stop there, but we’ll keep going for the sake of this review.
East Shoal Public School
East Shoal is….
Okay, let me preface this. They are apparently in the middle of bumfuck Indiana (they only dropped the name of the place once and it wasn’t in a context where it could be easily retained) and this place is described as so small that it not only doesn’t show up on the map, but you could pass through it in like 5-10 mins without realizing you’d ever been anywhere different. Like this might be mistaken for a corn field type small. Yet in this small… town(?) there are several living districts including a super rundown poor area and a super-rich Beverly Hills type area where there are literal manors that belong in Fortune 500 or some shit. On top of that, this super small place has a public high school and a private high school that somehow have enough kids to populate them, have full football teams, and perpetuate rivalry in which you have a full stadium…
East Shoal is not only populated by flat, forgettable characters of a not even comically tropey nature, but it’s also littered with unnecessary, contrived, and painfully tedious subplots. Between the snake living in the ventilation system, the obvious rape/molestation of one of the #meangirls by the principal, to the bullshit hatred towards the love interest for being German, and this weird… side plot of this couple being… dicks… I dunno, I stopped paying attention at a certain point there. Basically, East Shoal as a whole is trying to be Archie, Sixteen Candles, the Breakfast Club, Hemlock Grove, and Scooby Doo all rolled into one ABC after school special without solidly building up and creating a satisfying payoff at the end.
Tony Soprano is still in a coma! There’s no gratification for sticking with this!
The BreakFast Clu– Er — Athletic Support Club
Where weak characters fester around a strong character and no I’m not talking about Alex. The club is made up of six… -counts on fingers- yeah six kids.
Jetta: a super special awesome pixy dream girl who is also French and speaks French but who is also multilingual (she speaks like six languages) who also wants to go back to France to become a fashion designer, who is also the most loyal friend to Miles. She’s in the club for… um… reasons that I don’t remember because it was too inconsequential for me to retain. Upon meeting her, Alex (who is obsessed with Nazi and Communists because they scare her) immediately thinks “Foreigner! French Communist Party!” in a way that makes me go “Umm…” because — small history lesson — the French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Francais) were against the Nazis… but, you know… being paranoid about something doesn’t make you learn everything about it I suppose…
Art: A black kid who is here because he was blamed for having weed when he didn’t. Okay. Alex believes she’s hallucinating because his pecs were too big… I bullshit you not —
“I turned to Art, a black kid who was a foot and a half taller than me and whose pecs were about to burst out of his shirt and eat someone. I gave him a two on the delusion detector. I didn’t turst those pecs.”
— Made You Up, Page 36
Theo: Theophillia and her brothers Evan and Ian are triplets with Evan and Ian being Identical. This is possible. No problem. I believe it. However, Alex’s reaction to them is
“I know how genetics worked — even normal identical twins didn’t look as identical as Theo’s brothers. My fingers tightened around my camera.”
—Made You Up, Page 36
Yeah… I suppose Alex’s reactions are meant to be comical in light of her paranoia and schizophrenia but they just come off as insulting considering this is telling the average reader that these fun, quirky little things are what people like me are constantly concerned about. That these are things one might hallucinate about or have delusions of. (PSA: Delusion and Hallucination are not the same things. This author uses them interchangeably.) It’s just poor execution, not in any way humorous, and falls flat. Again there’s no joke here, just a “lol I see things” type of humor and Alex… is not… funny…
I wrote that a lot in my notes, I’m sorry.
These characters are introduced just to pad the club and try to give Alex potential friends. They lack distinctive personalities and pretty much act as… well dummies for Alex and Miles to play off of. They don’t have unique voices and can be interchangeable to the point that you wouldn’t recall who was talking or who did what without flipping back. Basically, they lack in everything that would make them memorable and tolerable outside of “that one guy/chick.” Even at pivotal moments, I couldn’t tell you which of them was doing what. But then there’s my boo… Miles!
The Case of Miles (A BAMF Trapped in a Terrible Book!!!!)
Miles Motherfucking Richter… my god I fucking love this kid! I literally could read an entire story about Miles and the shit he goes through. Out of all of them, including Alex, he is the most sympathetic with the strongest voice and the real struggle that isn’t overplayed to death. Miles Ritcher is a German-speaking BOSS who basically has everyone wrapped around his fingers at the beginning because he’s the high school hitman. You pass him some money, he will make shit happen for you! Someone crosses you, go find the “Nazi.” He’ll put Icy Hot in your underwear and look you in the eye the next morning. Best of all he does not discriminate. He even pranks Alex, which funnily enough she responded by gluing his locker shut. Miles steals every scene he’s in and as long as he was present, Alex is a better, more human character. Their interactions were natural when Alex’s schizophrenia wasn’t shoved into it like a goddamn puffer fish in a school of fluidly flowing tuna! Honestly, the story itself often dragged when he was no longer in the scene. Not a good sign. But who gives a shit!
Miles is “Blue Eyes” by the way. He is the one who helped her free the lobsters which but her mother says they were never let out of the tank. However, Miles is said to have remembered lifting her up and helping her. Miles has eidetic memory… pretty sure he’d know. However, that’s never clarified, adding to the plot holes of this book. But fuck dat…
Let’s talk about my boi, Miles Richter!
Miles is initially presented as a high IQ’d asshole and is overbearingly mean, which later is explained that he doesn’t actually try to be mean, he simply lacks severely in social skills and doesn’t quite comprehend emotional and social cues from other people. He logically and objectively approaches everything with an unbiased mind and if you don’t conform to logic you are not worth his time. He literally stopped being friends with a kid named Tucker (who I had no desire to go into because he was pretty irrelevant through most of this) simply because to Miles, Tucker had intelligence and potential that he refused to use and wasted it often. He basically does not waste his time on people who do not use their head to further and better themselves. Reasons he’s 99% done with most of the people around him at East Shoal.
This is due to Miles possibly being Autistic but it is never explicitly expressed, which is the saving point. The reader can deduce and theorize but it doesn’t put a label on what’s different about Miles. It’s frankly ashamed that Zappia doesn’t use this method of vaguing the implied illness with Alex’s supposed schizophrenia. Probably would’ve saved… never mind; the only thing that could’ve saved this is if Alex didn’t exist and the book was about my man Miles.
Anyway! Miles is doing these jobs not because he likes it, enjoys it, or gets some form of schadenfreude from the results. No. He has a very real and actually very sympathetic reason. His mother was committed a while back because of her bipolar disorder after a clash with his abusive stepfather. June attacks him because he beat her and tried to drown her and thus when the authorities are called, the bastard claims the wounds were self-inflicted and that she was violent. Now while this is something that can easily be disproven and we all know it (cause you can tell self-inflicted wounds from non) this is not actually completely impossible. June being sentenced to her institutionalization is actually something that can be discreetly gotten away with if the husband is in good with the local authorities and/or judge and in a town small enough for this and prejudice enough against mental illness, it is plausible. This is hammered home by nearly everyone’s reaction to Alex’s condition being publicized. So yes, I can suspend disbelief on this part.
So Miles is left alone with this son of a bitch and thus is saving and making money at both school and a side job so that he can set he and his mother up far away from his step dad where they can be happy and safe.
Miles is a Ride or Die, no fucks given, goal-oriented badass who is both relatable and easy to sympathize with. He’s the strongest, most solid, and believable character in this story. His possible autism doesn’t define him, his abuse doesn’t define him (which this could’ve easily been a road taken and ruined him) and most importantly, he doesn’t let what he comes from and what he’s doing color how he treats Alex before and after he realizes he likes her. He loves her and respects her as a person and he is phenomenal as a significant other and goddammit why wasn’t this book about him!!!
Miles “Mein Chef” Richter you are my boy! Sorry, you began and ended in this garbage fire of a book.
Finally, we get to the rotten meat of the book where I try my best not to drunkenly rant and rave over the bullshit that is this book…
Alexandra “Alex” Ridgemont ( The Bella Swan of Mental Illness)
Here we go ya’ll…
This… bitch… here…
Alex, as a person who suffers from schizophrenia, pisses me off a bit in that I know enough about the facts of my illness, the facts of the symptoms, and the facts of the treatment for it. Actually, it would probably piss off anyone who did a ten minute google search but… hmmph. Coupled with having the illness mentioned, I (and so many others who have read and wanted to burn this book) really can only say that this is completely unrealistic and honestly undermining it. Yes, relating to the goings on is fine. Nothing wrong with that. But what’s been happening is that normal people are reading Alex as the generalized version of what being schizophrenic is like and are saying “oh, I get it now, so this is how I should handle this and oh my god, therapist, and hospitals are AWFUL!” It, in essence, dumbed down a completely serious illness into a quirky gimmick for adding the “not like other girls” trait to Alex. Granted it did its job and hooked me into reading it, but it didn’t keep me. It insults the people who have it, the people who work with it, and the people who spend their lives studying and trying to understand it.
But back on topic.
Alex is quite literally ruled and defined by her illness throughout the book, but never quite suffers from it as you expect or faces the real challenges and consequences of it. She is depicted as having hallucinations and delusions but it is very often mild. She hallucinates about silly things like squirrels, Magic 8 Balls, and a phoenix that follows her home from school overhead. Most disconcerting is that she hallucinates a lot, like to the point where someone who has been living with it for a while would consider a change in medication (since it’s obviously not helping) or perhaps some more serious help. She has major, long-term hallucinations which don’t make sense in the context of the story such as:
- The Magic 8 Ball – She’s been hallucinating her interactions with this thing since she started working there and apparently visibly interacted with it. However, no one once at her job slid up to Alex and went “hey what are you doing?” when she was playing with the 8-ball that wasn’t there.
- She hallucinates the phoenix flying over her every day after school.
- She hallucinates her dead sister Charlie for 4 years
- bonus: her parents played along with it for the entire four years even though Charlie was dead and the mother often admonishes her for her hallucinations in the book under the guise of concern
- . Bonus: somehow in that entire four years, no one has called Alex out on her “interacting” with thin air until now
- This was a poorly built plot device and had absolutely no emotional impact because you could already tell Charlie wasn’t real from her first introduction. Because of how little you are able to connect with Alex and how Charlie and her relationship with Alex aren’t really developed enough for you to even be shocked and awed by the cheap plot twist, you can’t really feel for her.
-Sighs- I can’t tell if the people who interact with Alex are willfully ignorant not to have already noticed Alex was strange or just intentionally written that way as a means to show that most people wouldn’t know a person with a mental illness even if they saw one. Either way, it’s bad execution.
The illness is also used as a deus ex machina in that it somehow acts as premonitions and such… which brings me to my next point of what the actual fuck:
Alex’s psychosis gives her superpowers!
She hallucinates Miles as a beaten up lake monster — even smells the pond scum — and later we find out Miles was almost drowned by his stepfather in a lake.
She hallucinates the original cheerleader who died from the falling scoreboard as #meangirl’s mother and the conversations they have which lead to plot relevant discoveries and eventualities. Turns out the dead cheerleader is #meangirl’s mother. Dun-dun-dun!!!
She hallucinates conversations between said ghost mom and the psycho principal causing her to figure out that the principal is going to try and kill someone…
Deus Ex go fuck yourself!
So Alex, as far as her illness, is so ill-thought out that I’m pretty sure she was not thought out at all and very poorly researched (though this is questionable since the author admits to never having experience with schizophrenia in any form and that if there were inaccuracies in her portrayal her agent, editor, or publisher would’ve probably caught it. Not gonna touch that) Doesn’t help that this story was initially started when the author was 10… This portrayal is littered with stereotypes and most assuredly what an unknowledgeable person would assume the illness to be, especially in how its handled by her family and therapist in the end. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.
Authors, please do your research when working on something like this. Save a life.
Alex as a person/character is really only her illness. She has no unique, definitive traits nor a standalone personality outside of the “crazy girl.” All you could say about Alex is that “Nazi’s and Commies are scary” and “I see shit” you don’t know her hobbies, you don’t know what kind of things she likes, her goals, or even what she wants to become. She is simply a doll being used as a plot device which is often a role delegated to a side character, not the main protagonist. You don’t even know what motivates her to get better or try to be “normal” as she puts it other than she’s afraid of being institutionalized which doesn’t work that way. She doesn’t even really show herself as… well… Anything. Until Miles! Miles is the only thing that brings her into significance.
Well, Harli, she likes photography!
No, she doesn’t. She takes pictures to make sure she’s not hallucinating something which is proven not to work… at all…
Not even going to go into the subplots but all-in-all she and others in this story are less characters and more caricatures of ideals and stereotypes. Except for Miles, you can’t tell me shit about Miles other than he suffers from Third Act Syndrome. He could’ve carried this entire story on his own.
Writing/Structure/Story blah blah blah
It’s… it’s bad. As far as the writing goes, it’s not absolutely horrible in that there is a cohesive story somewhere in there. What makes it such a goddamn dumpster fire, however, is that this cohesive story is not visible. It’s bogged down in the needlessly complicated subplots that are not given enough time to develop and thus offer absolutely nothing of substance and, worse, no payoff for all those threads. The emotional “ah” and “oh” were not earned in any part of this story from Alex nearly dying from the scoreboard to her reconciling with #meangirl. All of the parts that are meant to bring you to the pinnacle of emotional investment are hollow and stale. Most of that has to do with Alex being the subject and the fact that the author does little to SHOW us things. She simply tells us. This character sleeps with other boys to make her boyfriend jealous and get said boys beat up. This character is former army and loud. This character is aspiring queen bee and wants attention. Basically, you are told every bit of everything without a single descriptor or weaving of these things into the narrative. You’re getting more of a play-by-play rather than experiencing a story. You are not allowed to experience what she experiences, just simply told that she’s experiencing them…. except when she interacts with Miles.
Honestly, this book suffers from “Stephenie Meyer” Syndrome: Write one good, immersive, well-written scene (often romantic) and then write some inconsequential fluff around it to make it novel length. Share —> Profit.
The entire novel reads like someone’s 2nd Draft. There’s a severe lack of editing, plot building, and character consistency, but most of all, it’s as though Zappia had a hundred ideas that she dumped into this one novel without thinking it through. It’s easy to read because there’s no effort in making it an immersive experience as “slice of life” or any narrative is meant to be. After all, contemporary teen lit is meant to echo the human experience… there’s meant to be feelings and thoughts inspired that may or may not stick with you.
Unfortunately, I felt nothing and was ready to toss it away… That’s what upsets me most. The fact that this novel made me feel like I wasted my time. No story should ever make you feel that way…
If you choose to read this book, you should not go into this believing this is an accurate (meaning factual and not just relatable to personal experience) portrayal of schizophrenia or any mental disorder related to it. It is not factual in how it’s handled. Keep that in mind and don’t use it as a guide on how to interact with your buddy who floats off into hallucinations every now and then.
So you might choose to read this hot mess, go right ahead! You might like it, you might enjoy it, you might love Miles as much as I did or absolutely hate him. But it’s your choice… just like it’s my choice to call this a waste of time.
It’s badly planned, too many subplots with no proper pay off, drags terribly at points, and is so inconsistent from the plot to the characterizations. Not to mention poorly researched… again. Alex’s attempts at humor are terribly unfunny and come off as just her saying something to be edgy. Honestly, with some rewrites, editing, and fact checking and more time devoted to it, it could’ve been a good story. Hell, a damn good story.
But it’s not… this is what we got…
It’s god awful. Never going to revisit Alex and Miles again… unless Miles gets his own stand alone novel. WRITE THAT! Jesus.
I’m sorry guys, this one gets an F on the grading scale. Solid F. I don’t really have a desire to read anything else by her in the future because of it.
“Made You Up” could’ve used a little more “Making Up’ in the everything department…
So as you can see with the lengthiness of this review, I’m attempting to give you guys some actual substance in what I like about books I read, what I don’t like, and what I look for in reading. I’m going to continue doing these in-depth breakdowns of books I read to give you a better idea of what works in my mind and what doesn’t and what can actually go fuck itself. I hope you found this enjoyable, informing, and be back for the review of “The Light We Lost” by Jill Santopolo
Thank you for sticking it out…
I’ll someday make videos, but I think I’ll start with a book I actually like.
In the comments, by all means, recommend some stuff to me or tell me why you think I’m wrong or why you agree with me. I enjoy conversation and enjoy book recs. Gimme!
-Harli V. Park-