Friday, October 13, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

I was intrigued by Julia Walton's Words on Bathroom Walls as soon as I came across it on Goodreads. Add in yet another unplanned trip to Half Price Books, and here we are. I was not exactly sure what I had signed up for when I picked this story following a teenage boy diagnosed with schizophrenia, but at the very least, I figured it would be interesting.

The Situation: It is the start of a new school year and Adam is preparing to attend St. Agatha's, a private K-12 Catholic school where he will have to wear a school uniform, attend Mass, participate in an Easter play...the full deal. New schools are always a little intimidating and cause for some anxiety. But if meeting new people, making new friends, and getting around a new campus were not enough to worry about, Adam also has the knowledge that every adult in the building knows he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He attends weekly therapy sessions (where he refuses to talk) and is even on a new experimental medication known as ToZaPrex that is supposed to help with the hallucinations. Still, he is worried about the other students finding out about his secret, and even a little bit about the people who already know. 

The Problem: Everything seems to be going fairly well...or at least about as well as life in high school can go. School is what it is; Mass is boring; Adam's mom and stepdad are always supportive and there for him; he has met a cute girl; made a talkative friend; and made his way onto the school bully's hit list. All fairly standard stuff. But then the ToZaPrex does not seem to have the same effect it used to, and when the doctors managing the study recognize that Adam's body is building an immunity to it, they decide to bring him off of it, slowly. Since his diagnosis, Adam has been well aware that there is no cure for what he has, but he would like to at least be able to manage to a point that he does not hurt anyone, or give anyone reason to be afraid of him. Even at the height of ToZaPrex's effectiveness, the hallucinations do not go away completely, but he could handle them. Now, he risks losing everything he has spent the school year working so hard to gain, things that he never knew he needed or wanted until now. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in the 2012-2013 school year, which is Adam's junior year. The setting of the private Catholic school gives Adam some opportunity to talk about religion, though often the discussion is just him criticizing the Catholic church, their beliefs, and how they do things, rather than simply criticizing Christianity or religion in general. Since he refuses to talk in his therapy sessions, the story is told through the journal entries he writes to his therapist, telling everything important that is happening to him. Even the poor therapist is not free from Adam's scrutiny, as he often calls him out for his clothes, hair, even the line of questioning he sometimes chooses in an attempt to get Adam to open up. But given what Adam has been through, and what he is still going through, it is understandable that he would be unwilling to talk, even angry. Walton acknowledges that ToZaPrex may not be a real drug, and that this story is fiction, but schizophrenia is not. The book may be a peek inside of the mind of a fictional person diagnosed with schizophrenia, but it is still a window into someone who is hurting and makes a point of acknowledging that he may never be "fixed."

My Verdict: This one left me a little bit on the fence, but I am certainly leaning more towards the positive. Adam is a great character who embodies that always fascinating issue (at least it is fascinating to me) of how much support can be given to someone who is legitimately suffering, when a lot of what they offer back is pain and heartache. Adam is not quite to the point that the people in his life want to walk away for good, but he has his moments, and these moments sometimes made the book difficult to get through. Of course, that could have been the point. The format of reading the story through Adam's entries to his therapist works extremely well. It may be a one-sided conversation, but not allowing the therapist to interrupt works to let Adam say everything he wants, albeit only in written form. If there is any issue I have with the story it is that the villain, Ian, is almost a little too over-powered. He is not necessarily physically strong, but he has a little too much power and access. Because of his position as the son of the wealthy head of the school board, he does what he wants and gets away with it, right down to being able to know confidential information about his fellow students. But other than that, this is a solid story that would be good reading for anyone who is afraid of being found out for who they are.

Favorite Moment: When Adam's mom confronts her mother-in-law regarding things she said about Adam and his condition.

Favorite Character: Often in YA novels, parents are non-existent, completely useless, or part of the problem. In this case, Adam's mom and stepdad are none of those things. They are helpful, present, and by his side whenever he needs them. 

Favorite Quote: "It doesn't really matter that no one else can see what I see. That doesn't make my experience any less real."

Recommended Reading: You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds by Jenny Lawson is an awesome combination of self-help and an adult coloring book. In between the coloring pages, Lawson talks about her own struggles with mental illness. For a fiction book, I recommend All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.  

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