Published by Random House Children's Books on 07-04-2017
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Fans of More Happy Than Not, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and It's Kind of a Funny Story will cheer for Adam as he struggles with schizophrenia in this brilliantly honest and unexpectedly funny debut. Adam has just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He sees and hears people who aren't there: Rebecca, a beautiful girl who understands him; the Mob Boss, who harasses him; and Jason, the naked guy who's unfailingly polite. It should be easy to separate the real from the not real, but Adam can't. Still, there's hope. As Adam starts fresh at a new school, he begins a drug trial that helps him ignore his visions. Suddenly everything seems possible, even love. When he meets Maya, a fiercely intelligent girl, he desperately wants to be the great guy that she thinks he is. But then the miracle drug begins to fail, and Adam will do anything to keep Maya from discovering his secret.
Words on Bathroom Walls is one of those books I want to do justice to in my review; I want to do justice to all of my reviews, let’s be honest, but I feel like it’s especially important with mental health books to make sure you review them correctly, which is something I struggle with really hard because I’m lucky to never have really suffered with my mental health and don’t always understand what people are going through. Yes, you can read about someone like Adam, who suffers from schizophrenia or Norah in Under Rose-Tainted Skies who has agoraphobia but I feel like it’s hard to really, truly understand it unless you have personal experience (not that I would want to suffer either of their experiences).
“That’s what you want me to say, isn’t it? That I’m emotionally scarred because my dad didn’t want to stick around to be my dad? Or that I blame my disease on him? That would be easy.”
Words on Bathroom Walls is one of those books that tells, not shows. Adam tells us everything about his life, in the form of a diary, written to his counsellor. He’s starting a new drug trial in the hope of reducing/managing the hallucinations he sees and the voices he hears, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia and, on top of all of that, he also has to start at a new school, in the hopes no one finds out about him. I knew what the book was about going into it, but I have no idea where the title came from. Perhaps I took it way too literally, in expecting there to be words on bathroom walls, but it was lacking in that department. Yes, there was one particular phrase but it must have just been a fitting title, however the meaning of it does escape me.
“I get that I’m not supposed to say that. Everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle, right? But what if they’re not? What if the biggest thing they have to worry about is homework and whether they get into a good college? Even if they’ve lost a family member or their parents are getting a divorce or they’re missing someone far away. That is not worse than having to take medication to be in control of your own mind. It’s just not.”
I really liked Adam’s voice. He’s refreshingly honest about his condition, and it was incredibly interesting to see the different hallucinations he suffers with. Whether it’s the helpful, naked man who coaches him in social situations, or the mob boss who lets rip with a gun whenever he feels like it, or the girl, Rebecca, who’s Adam’s constant companion. Adam’s voice is very sarcastic, very real, very honest. He says himself that he’s hardly a reliable narrator, but I believed him well enough. It was interesting to see how the medication affected him, how it helped him stay grounded in reality, how he could tell the difference between a real person and the tricks his mind was playing on him and to manage all of that, at 16, while navigating a new school and new friends – Dwight and Maya who I loved and wished we’d heard more from, especially Dwight was pretty impressive.
“It’s a very strange reality when you can’t trust yourself. There’s no foundation for anything. The faith I might have had in normal things like gravity or logic or love is gone because my mind might not be reading them correctly. You can’t possibly know what it means to doubt everything. To walk into a room full of people and pretend that it’s empty because you’re not actually sure if it is or not.”
There’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, the people that will deride others for suffering because it’s not something tangible, that they can see or touch or understand, like cancer. I feel like schizophrenia is one of the worst stigmatised because people automatically jump from being schizophrenic to being a serial killer, as if the two are linked, when really I bet a lot of people are able to manage their schizophrenia and don’t have the tendency to go out and commit mass murder. Words on Bathroom Walls was an incredible read. I hope this lifts the lid a little bit on what it’s like to deal with schizophrenia and while I can’t tell you if it’s brilliant mental health rep, because I have no ties to any of the issues in the book, it seems like it is. I’m happy to correct myself if I’m wrong, but I liked this book. It was an important read, and I loved Adam. Voices, hallucinations, and all.