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. 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.
FTC Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Psychiatric disorders — I refuse to call them mental illnesses — are a sensitive subject for me. When I was really young, someone I know suffered from Paranoid Schizophrenia (do not ask me who), and in high school I’ve met people who have depression or an anxiety disorder. I tend to avoid books and movies about Schizophrenia not just because it aches to think about it (it does) but because stigmatization of psychiatric disorders has led to a trend of horrifically inaccurate portrayal in media.
Normally, I’d take a look at a book like “Made You Up” and pass with a sigh. Not for me. Honestly, I’m not sure what came over me when I requested a review copy on Edelweiss. Something just seemed right about “Made You Up.” The cover is beautiful and sad at the same time, and the synopsis sounds so earnest.
Truthful, raw and carefully handled
As it turns out — fortunately — I had absolutely no reason to worry about “Made You Up.”
Francesca Zappia handles the topic of Schizophrenia perfectly, never pushing into the realm of “creative license” with her portrayal of it, capturing it in a way that seems so raw and truthful. Until I read an old interview, I could have sworn that she must have consulted a psychologist prior to/while writing “Made You Up.” Had I read the interview before reading “Made You Up,” I probably would’ve been more wary because, from my own personal experience, psychology textbooks and other sources of information never give a true understanding of people who have psychiatric disorders.
“I knew that if I wrote a book about something as misunderstood as schizophrenia, I couldn’t shirk the research, so I made sure I learned everything from the symptoms to the (supposed) causes to effects on the family to types of treatment and therapy. In a lot of mainstream media, schizophrenia is a trait given to criminals or villains to explain why they’re so messed up and dangerous. (Or, in some other books I’ve read, a way for a teenage character to be extra rebellious/quirky). I wanted to steer far away from using mental illness as a plot device, which meant even more research.”
I cannot tell you how happy I am that Alex’s Schizophrenia wasn’t used at a plot device in “Made You Up.” Psychiatric disorders don’t define the people who have them. They don’t deserve to have their “life stories” centered around what they can’t control. Alex’s story, though fictional, shouldn’t be centered around her Schizophrenia either. And it isn’t. It’s centered around her personal growth, her family and friends, her first romance; it’s centered around what makes her a normal human being, a teenage girl experiencing what young adulthood has to offer.
Like all teenage girls’, Alex’s story is riddled with confusion, indecisiveness and self-deprecation. But she has to suffer something that most people will never have to deal with, something that I would never ever wish upon my greatest enemy. Throughout most of the book, Alex has no way of discerning reality from hallucination. As a reader, following this unreliable narrator, I couldn’t help but sympathize with her distress, her helpless confusion. I cried so much when Alex learned that her sister, Charlie, had died four years ago and that she had spent the past four years hallucinating that Charlie was still alive.
The book didn’t end the way I thought it would at all, but looking back, the ending couldn’t have been more perfect. The second to last chapter left me shocked, devastated and sad. The epilogue left me warm and hopeful. I didn’t get the happily ever after I had craved for Alex when I started reading; instead, I got an ending that was real — and for a protagonist burdened by hallucinations half her life, something real is exactly what Alex needs. I’m still pissed at the school for not letting her get her diploma though and for forcing her to be handcuffed at graduation like a criminal or an animal though.
Phenomenal characters and romance
Alex is one of the most amazing characters I’ve read about in a long time. (And I read about a lot of characters!) She faces something far worse than most of her peers — and most people in real life — will face in their lifetimes, but she is no hopeless victim. She doesn’t wallow in angst and self-pity. She’s brave and bright and forces herself to take life one step at a time. She never knows what’s real and what’s fake, but she relies on her coping mechanisms and pushed forward. More people should look at challenges the way she does instead of giving up when life gets hard.
I loved the unique voice Alex gave the story. She’s delightfully spunky and flat-out hilarious, a wonderful contrast to the heavy themes underlying “Made You Up.” Her dry wit is especially appreciated because it sounds a lot like my own sense of humor.
“Was there some kind of law about drop-kicking assholes in the face? Probably. They always had laws against things that really needed to be done.”
And, of course, who can forget this touching letter for Miles? *mischievous grin*
“Dear Asshole: Thank you for keeping your word and believing me. It was more than I expected. Also, I’m sorry you were inconvenienced by my gluing your locker shut at the beginning of this year. However, I am not sorry that I did it, because it was a lot of fun. Love, Alex.”
Speaking of Miles…
I am utterly in love with Miles. He’s frank, mischievous and amazingly smart (we all know boys with brains make me swoon). He’s also complex. Like Alex, he is the total opposite of what people expect him to be. He’s not the easiest person to get along with; in fact, he can outright be an asshole at times (refer back to the letter Alex wrote him). He pulls malicious pranks for money and seems like he doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself. But what his ignorant peers don’t know is that he has a huge chip on his shoulder, that he’s not invulnerable.
Alex and Miles are perfect for each other. They’re both social pariahs, cast aside by the stupid peers who can’t (or refuse to) see past the surface, yet they seem to understand each other perfectly.
They definitely don’t start off on the right foot, but their initial animosity makes watching them fall in love so much better. They have a slow-burn romance that melts me to the core, and their loyalty to each other is touching. They belong with each other (I WOULD GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP!).
“You’re Jetta.” He shook his head. I frowned. “Theo?”
“Well if you’re not either of them, you’d have to be me.” He blinked. “It’s me?” I said.
“I couldn’t think of anyone else,” he said.
I wouldn’t change a single thing about this book. “Made You Up” hooks you from the start, drags you along a plot of neverending suspense, strikes you in the feels and leaves you yearning for more.
Francesca Zappia takes a topic so misunderstood by society and crafts a story that is beautiful, truthful and raw. “Made You up” is an endless stream of contradictions to society’s misperceptions and wrongs.
The characters are complex and perfectly imperfect. And the romance is warm, sweet and slow.