Published by: Greenwillow
Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar.
Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn't she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.
Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up.
You can read my original interview with Chessie here and my second interview, which offers you the opportunity to win an annotated ARC, here. You can see my original thoughts on this book in this post. Also, if you're interested in this book, you could look at the quotes I've added. See how funny Alex is???
The prologue of this book hooked me in easily. It's true that some other YA contemporaries probably have chapters with younger versions of their MCs, but this beginning felt different. There was a sly humor, a great control in how the daily life of seven-year-old Alex was portrayed. The Freeing of the Lobsters was, no doubt, a wonderful start to this novel not just to show us Alex prior to the onset of her schizophrenia (and establish the themes and layered questions of this novel: how much of this was real? was Alex already have a hard time distinguishing between delusion and reality at that age, or was this normal for a seven-year-old (albeit one with a vivid imagination)?) but also Alex and Mile's personalities before the world hardened and chiseled them into teenagers struggling to cope with their new realities. And so, from the prologue and the first chapter until the very last, I was hooked to this book.
Of all of Chessie's characters, Alex and Miles are my favorites. In the past, I've told Chessie that her manuscripts have very "Chessie characters." I've struggled to explain what this means, but Made You Up transcends that description. I was reminded of a Maggie Stiefvater novel; all her characters are unquestionably produced by her, there's a certain quality to them that you start to recognize once you've read enough of her work. So, Maggie Stiefvater is clearly the one writing and developing the characters, but in her novels, her characters also become their own people, independent of the creator. This is what Chessie has achieved in Made You Up, and damned brilliant she is for doing it in her debut novel. Authors will spend years before they have the level of control over their authorial voice that she already has. This works well to her advantage with the story being told too: because Alex is such a real character and her hope so pervasive, the question of what is real and what is delusion is that much harder to decipher. This control aids her already well drawn plot and effective, multi-layered portrayal of Alex and her schizophrenia. Because Alex is this kind of character and her delusions are real to her, they are also real to you as a reader.
Alex is a brilliant role model for all readers, teenagers and adults. She is full of hope. She wants to go to college, to live a normal life. Her struggles with schizophrenia are peripheral to that hope. She is NOT broken. Her determination is one of her defining characteristics: she wants to be able to function all on her own in the real world and doesn't like her medication or seeing her therapist, but she recognizes that, despite her reservations, these treatments help her, and will help her succeed in her goals; there is no sign of that trope where medication or therapy is an evil, and thank goodness for that. To see Alex as she interacts with her sister is both heart-warming and funny. Alex's humor -- the general humor, jokes, and funny characterizations in this novel -- liven the questions of the narrative. Alex also works at a restaurant and gives most of her money to help her financially struggling parents. How great of a character is she? Funny, responsible, determined, hopeful, smart; and her character growth only makes her feel that much more developed and three-dimensional.
Miles surprised me. I had heard so much about Alex and him from Chessie that I was floored when I saw what a jerk he was to Alex in the beginning; but the great thing is that Alex pushes back. So then I started to flip the pages for more of Miles, to see how he would provoke Alex and to see how she would respond. Honestly, it reminded me of two cute little kids in a sandbox, and I wanted to smush them together from the first. I can say, with one hundred percent sincerity, that I had not expected to ever like another arrogant romantic interest with asshole tendencies, but Miles has changed the game. He knows that he's smart, and he has a little bit of an elitist attitude about his classmates, and he has some emotional and social problems, but he's well-adapted to living his life without focusing on those problems. And the more he interacts with Alex, the more we get to see that shining golden heart, the vulnerability behind the arrogance with his regard to his intelligence. You could probably even compare the way Miles reads to the way Cath from Fangirl does; she doesn't always come off as being kind or socially aware or adept, but she's got her own determination, humor, and sterling qualities, similar to Miles. Some of Miles's antics also remind me of the pranks and fun in Paper Towns. Chessie's characters are as smart and funny as John Green's characters yet still remain realistic.
The romance is plain adorable. I told you that from the start, I was rooting for Alex and Miles. They have similar humor and hopeful outlooks, and their chemistry is obvious in the several games of twenty questions they play. But you know what's the best thing about the romance between Alex and Miles? It's what Chessie said herself in her interview: "They don't fix each other, they just understand each other and make things a little easier to bear, like any struggle gets easier when you have someone to share it with."
This book has a lovely portrayal of mental health, as somewhat discussed above, given how ordinary both Alex and Miles feel as characters. They are two people with their own struggles who do not need to be fixed; they like the world they live in and have found their own coping strategies. The plotting of this book is also marvelous. To convey a sense of Alex's schizophrenia, the plot works in several layers of symbolism, several scenes of delusion v. reality - you decide what's what, but then as you do that, you realize that THAT is Alex's daily reality. An effective, layered approach to mental illness. Parallel plots work in tandem with Alex and Mile's individual character arcs to enhance their development and the portrayal of mental illness, further working at the stigma that is so prevalent in society today. And in the background, we have a host of wonderful, funny side characters who reminded me of The Breakfast Club and who give their high school a well-rounded edge and unique quality.
What's not to like about Made You Up? Alex and Miles are fantastic neuroatypical characters with struggles that feel authentic to their character and not just a characteristic of mental illness. They're well developed and their romance will make shippers happy. Alex's voice is humorous and hopeful. The plot is layered, serious yet fun; keeping you entertained while keeping you guessing. You want something different from the usual YA contemporary thoroughfare? Take it with a shot of twenty questions and diversity in Made You Up.
If you're interested in this book, I'm giving away an annotated ARC!