Made You Up by Francesca Zappia, Greenwillow Books, to be published in May, 2015. ISBN: 9780062290106 . Digital review copy courtesy of Edelweis. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
When she was seven, Alexandria freed the lobsters at the supermarket. She was helped by a mysterious boy who had bright blue eyes and smelled like pond water. He agreed to be her friend after helping her, but he vanished.
Ten years later, Alex is struggling with reality. She has paranoid schizophrenia and has to rely on medication, obsessive and constant perimeter checks and her trusty digital camera to cope. She takes lots and lots of pictures that she looks at later to help determine what’s real and what are visual hallucinations.
She’s starting at a new school, having painted the word communists in big red letters on the gym floor at her old high school. Hopeful that she’ll fit in and maybe find some real happiness at the new school, she’s been working at Finnegan’s a restaurant all summer and has made friends with Tucker who has been filling her in on East Shoal High, her new school. When Miles comes in for his usual cheeseburger and fries, Tucker hints vaguely that he’s not normal and has Alex wait on him. The mystery boy barely talks to her, but when he does look up, his startling blue eyes pull Alex back to that day ten years ago and she’s filled with an array of emotions. Could it be that the boy she remembers really does exist, despite her mother telling her most of what she remembers that day wasn’t real?
When she starts school, Miles is running the club that gets all the kids who have to do community service. Alex has to participate because of her paint job at the other school. She’s a bit scared, but far more intrigued by Miles who is beyond smart, has a slight German accent and apparently hires out to do really strange stuff for other students.
Both of them, along with Tucker, are curious about the principal’s obsession with the gym scoreboard that was donated in honor of a girl more than twenty years before. When she returned five years after graduating, the scoreboard fell, killing her. They suspect there’s an odd link between the principal, the scoreboard and Celia, a cheerleader who has a thing for Miles and whose mother was in the same class as the girl the scoreboard killed.
This could have easily turned into a typical teen romance, but the author moved it into far more interesting directions and I am incredibly impressed with how she built Alexandria’s personality, especially her battle to distinguish reality from her illness. Having worked in inpatient mental health for more than 25 years, she got this aspect as right as anyone possibly could. So much so, that there are several completely gut-wrenching moments in the final third of the book that are directly related to her illness.
Miles is also well crafted and has some intriguing issues of his own. He’s both brilliant and terribly vulnerable, but keeps that latter piece hidden from everyone until Alex manages to get inside his shell.
This is a love story, a mystery and an excellent look at two teens trying to perceive the world through flawed lenses. While there is a fair amount of profanity and some violence, neither should deter any library from adding this to their collection. It would be particularly good for libraries who care about offering insights into teen mental heath issues. On a final note, there are sufficient mystery elements for this to be considered as a YA Edgar candidate.