Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (Greenwillow Books, 2015) is longlisted for the Inky Award 2016. Will it make the shortlist tomorrow?

There are inaccuracies with the depiction of schizophrenia and psychiatric care which I elaborate here. Problems aside, Made You Up allows readers to experience what a person with schizophrenia does – not knowing what’s real or not.

“I tugged on my hair, wishing it wasn’t so damn red, wishing my mind worked the way it should, wishing things would go back to the way they were… when everything was real and I didn’t know any better.”

Alex was diagnosed with schizophrenia a few years back. After an incident at school at the end of last year, she’s transferred her senior year to East Shoal High. She hopes she can keep her schizophrenia a secret and work out what’s real and what’s not before her delusions and hallucinations cause any more drama. (That tired cliche of not taking her meds isn’t helping.) Alex always has her camera on hand to take photos. If the image fades over time, she knows it was a hallucination.

“He’d come right out of my delusions, but here he was. He straddled the line between my world and everyone else’s, and I didn’t like it.”

Right before school starts a creepy late night diner comes into Alex’s work. When she sees his brilliant blue eyes, she knows exactly who he is, or does she? Her mom told her the Freeing of the Lobsters wasn’t real – live lobsters aren’t red until they’re cooked.

Alex finds out Blue Eyes aka Miles goes to East Shoal and he’s a total jerk. Not only do they share a bunch of classes, but he’s in charge of the East Shoal Recreational Athletics Support Club, mandatory after school community service peopled by all the recalcitrants in school. Alex has to join due to that incident last year.

Things start getting weird. Principal McCoy has an unnatural obsession with the gymnasium scoreboard, cool girl Celia has it in for Alex, and a golden pheonix regularly patrols the skies above town.

“If there was ever a time to put my finely honed sense of paranoia to good use, it was now.”

Onto the problematic aspects of Made You Up. I have a family history of schizophrenia and friends with it, so I know some about how it can present. I’ve had a few stays in psychiatric hospitals for anxiety and depression (and psychiatric medication my whole adult life), so I know about this in Australia.

The multitude of oddities going on in Alex’s world complicated things, but the whole situation with Miles’ mom was totally unrealistic. Long term psychiatric care happens in the community. Institutionalization is outdated, although you wouldn’t know that from media portrayals. If a person was under psychiatric care for years, doctors would realise if she didn’t actually have a mental illness. Perhaps Miles was deluding himself and just didn’t want his mom to be sick.

There was a point when I got bored of all the strange happenings at East Shoal. The weird teachers, the weird bullies, the snakes in the roof. How much was due to Alex’s schizophrenia? Had she made up everything? And where were the auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) that are most common in schizophrenia? I got the shock of my life when Alex worked out her main hallucination, something neither of us thought to question. I’ve known friends with schizophrenia to name a voice after a real person they are familiar with. Although there are problems here too, which I discuss here.

So yeah, my old nemesis is stalking me again. I can’t handle doorstop books. Give me 200 pages and I’ll be happy at every page turn. Perhaps I didn’t give up on Made You Up due to the beauty of the object I held in my hand.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

This book is a work of art designed by Sylvie Le Floc’h. I’m glad I bought a copy from the US. Everything about the design is phenomenal.

title page

The title page repeats the cover in momochrome.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

The section headings with the spilled paint motif.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Chapter headings with more paint splotches and two of the repeating illustrations. Paint splotches are all the rage in recent book designs. A couple (I’ll Give You the Sun & When We Collided) feature artists so it makes sense, but Alex doesn’t paint. (Although Francesca Zappia is an artist.) Whatever, that inky deluge falling on Alex’s umbrella is divine.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

I tagged this post #WeNeedDiverseBooks due to the mental illness, but there’s little other diversity – rich white people everywhere. There’s a French exchange student with an offensive accent and a one dimensional black guy. Supposedly Alex’s family is poor. The only aspect of poverty she experiences is a run down house, although her abysmal psychiatric care may be due to no health insurance.