This was my second novel for Mental Health Awareness Month. I honestly didn't know what to expect. Most of what I know about schizophrenia is from TV and movies, and I know that I should take everything that I see there with a grain of salt. When Nic Sheff started this novel, he did a lot of research on the subject, and so I felt going into this novel that it was going to be more realistic. On the cover, it says "How do you manage when you don't know what's real?" I knew there would be some sort of twist in the novel and I spent the entire time trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't just like Miles, the main character, does. It was eye opening.
Schizo is about Miles Cole, a teenage boy suffering from schizophrenia and suffering with the guilt that he is the cause of the disappearance and/or death of his younger brother, Teddy. He has spent the last two years believing Teddy was alive and that the police just gave up looking for him, but that none of this would have happened if he hadn't had his first attack. He and his family were at the beach when he took a couple hits from a blunt, then he went to use the restroom.
"And then...It was as though someone was there, next to me, speaking, almost whispering in my ear. The voice was like my voice, but deeper, more grown-up sounding..."Don't go, Miles. It's not safe. They're coming. Don't go!" I laughed at that...Reaching for the handle, I tried to turn the lock, but it was like my hand couldn't quite grab hold of it...There was only the voice. And that's when I saw them: the crows-black, fat, grotesque, the biggest I'd ever seen-trying to break in from all sides through the sealed plastic windows and vent openings. They cawed and cackled, and I knew that the voice was right. I couldn't leave. I had to stay locked inside or the crows...they were going to tear me apart." (pp. 18-19)
Firemen come to rescue him, which because of the delusion, he thinks they're crows as well. He is taken to the hospital and put on a 72 hour watch. Then he learns that during this time, no one was watching Teddy, and he disappeared, presumably drowned. But Miles doesn't believe that.
The book focuses on Miles' journey of locating his brother. He tracks down the only eye witness, a woman who doesn't really have any friends, or much interaction with people, and is the definition of a crazy cat lady. She believes that a higher being caused the disappearance, aka God. Although she sounds like she is only doing all of this for attention, she does give Miles some good information: the description of the man she saw Teddy walk away with and the car he drove away in.
Miles next step is going to the police station and talking to the lead detective, who is no longer around, having moved last year. The detective who took over the case pulls out the notes and tells Miles that they had narrowed down a list of pedophiles in the area, and even one driving the car that the lady had mentioned, everyone had alibis and he thought he really did drown. Miles doesn't believe this and when he sees his opportunity, he steals some of the police files about the potential suspect.
While all of this is happening, Eliza, a crush from Miles' past, moves back to town. Before she moved away, there was a fallout between Eliza and Miles, but it's never said what. Eliza, upon seeing Miles for the first time, apologizes for what happened between them. Over the course of the novel, a sort of relationship blooms between them, but Miles pushes it away every time because he doesn't want anything to deter from finding his brother.
Through a course of events, most of which are quite terrifying, Miles ends up back in a 72 hour hold, and the deep dark secret you spend the novel trying to figure out finally comes out.
What I Liked
- As I stated in the beginning, I don't know much about schizophrenia. But I felt the turmoil Miles was going through. Just like him, we don't know what's real and not real. Even the crows that stalk his attacks are questionable. I wanted the answers just as much as Miles did.
- One of Miles best friends. Jackie, deals with her own "darkness" as Miles calls it, so it doesn't just focus on schizophrenia. Although we don't know much about Jackie's darkness, it is touched upon, and by the end of the novel, both of them are working through their demons while relaxing at the beach where it all began.
What I Didn't Like
- I don't understand the importance that Eliza played. I don't know if I missed it or what, but she just seemed there. It alluded to something happening before she moved, and she apologized, and then she wants a relationship with him and then she's sleeping with some other guy. I feel like I'm missing something. If I actually did miss something, please, someone tell me. The doctors talk about his infatuation with her, but I didn't pick up on that.
I thought this was an amazing introductory novel into schizophrenia. I know every case is different, each person is affected by their mental illness differently, but this was still eye opening. Watching his downward spiral as he stops taking his medication all together, and when he learns that it is because he has been on the wrong medication the last two years that he hasn't made progress is saddening. But the guilt that he has been carrying around with him the last two years is the hardest part. Guilt can tear apart the healthiest of people.
The part that I loved the most was a part towards the end when Miles is talking to a friend, Wanika, he has made while in the hospital the second time. They are outside smoking and talking about their diseases and how Miles always apologizes. She tells him this:
"We're fucking sick and we take medication. What's the big deal? Would you be blaming yourself if you had fucking cancer or some shit?" (p. 246)
If there has ever been a more true statement said, I haven't heard it. Just because you suffer from a mental illness doesn't mean you have to apologize for it, especially if you are doing something about it.
This book is wonderful, and I feel like I have a better grasp on schizophrenia after reading it.
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Health