This is an Allison review!
I was first introduced to the concept of Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught at BEA when I stopped at the Bloomsbury booth. They were really excited about it, and as they described it to me, I became excited too. I knew that this book was going to be right up my alleyway because I have a strong background in psychology. Granted, I kind of stepped away from the psychological aspect of things after I received my bachelor’s degree but, my interest in the subject and stigma of mental illness is still as strong as ever. Thus, I was really excited to see a YA book dealing with a young man with schizophrenia, and his trials and tribulations within society.
Freaks Like Us is told in a first person point of view from the viewpoint of the main character Jason, who often refers to himself as Freak. Jason’s internal monologue is a little confusing at first because he has a tendency to go back and forth between his own thoughts and the thoughts that are being caused by the voices inside his head. There are also times when he simply just has difficulty verbalizing his thoughts and separating them from the voices. It’s a little complicated but once I got into the groove of his thought process, and begin to understand him; I quickly realized that Jason is a truly remarkable character. He is actually very intelligent, and although he isn’t able to express himself very well, he often times knows exactly what is going on. Even when people are trying to lie to him, trick him, or convince him other wise.
How are people trying to lie to him, trick him, or convince him other wise? Well, it all starts when his best friend Sunshine disappears one night after school. Sunshine and Jason along with their other best friend Derrick, who Jason often refers to as Drip, are alphabets. That is not an official description of them but rather the description that they have given themselves and others like them who have some form of mental disability with shortened description. Jason has schizophrenia (SCZI), Derrick has attention deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD), and Sunshine is a selective mute (SM) to almost everyone except Jason and Derrick. The three of them have all learned to handle their disorders with proper medication and therapy but the biggest way in which they handle things is by being together. They have been best friends since childhood and now they are in their final year of high school together. Their senior year appears to be going as smoothly as possible for three teenagers with disabilities. They put up with the tormenting and the teasing because they always have each other to fall back on. However that all changes the night when Sunshine goes missing. She never made it home from the corner that Jason, Derrick and her parted ways at after the bus ride home. Since Sunshine is a disabled minor, the local authorities decided to call in the FBI for assistance, and everyone becomes a suspect including Jason. Jason is positive that he didn’t do anything to Sunshine, but the voices in his head make everything so confusing he is unsure about his own innocence or how to convince anyone else of his innocence either.
One of the reasons that Jason struggles so much with his own innocence is because he and Sunshine share a secret. Two days prior to her disappearance Sunshine asked Jason to do something for her and to keep it a secret. Since Sunshine is his best friend Jason does not hesitate to keep this secret but unfortunately after a bit of time has pass his schizophrenia makes it difficult to determine what reality is and what is fake. Did she really ask? Did he really do it? This confusion causes issues once the FBI becomes involved with the case as Jason is unable to truly answer their questions, and that of course makes him look guilty in their eyes. Jason is completely aware of this fact, and often directly calls them out on it. Like I said before, he’s a very intelligent young man, who doesn’t let his disorder hold him back. He is very determined to find his best friend whom he cares for more than anything else.
It was interesting to read about Jason’s interactions with the FBI and the people around him who automatically thought the worst of him because of his mental disorder. One of the things that I loved most of Freaks Like Us was the way that attention was brought to the serious issues that those who have mental disorders often experience but are often ignored by society. Things that were discussed within the pages includes but were not limited to pre-conceived judgments, medication and treatment, lack of funding for school systems, the stress parents experience when raising a child with a mental disorder, bullying, perversion, abuse, and the stigma of a mental disorder. Susan Vaught does not hesitate to be realistic and gritty when it comes to her story, and I respect that so much. It is so nice to see an author who isn’t afraid to take a chance and speak the truth when it comes to the issue of the treatment and stigma of mental illness within society. She also has an excellent way to crafting a story around such a heavy topic.
Honestly, for me Freaks Like Us pulled me in right from the first chapter and didn’t let me go. I truly feel that it is a compelling and unique approach to discussing and revealing the agony of being different in a society where being different is looked upon as being wrong. Jason’s voice is pitch perfect and honest and true. He’ll make you laugh and he’ll make you cry. The mystery is also so gripping you won’t want to put this book down until you know what happened to Sunshine. I truthfully can’t say enough good things about this book. It just hit all the right spots for me and I HIGHLY recommend that everyone checks it out.
Disclosure: Received an advance copy at BEA
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