Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: "Words on Bathroom Walls" by Julia Walton

Adam has recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He knew something was wrong with him, and he's both horrified and relieved to know what it is. As much as it hurt to lose his friends, who all stopped talking to him after his diagnosis, he has a chance for a new start—he's going to attend a new school as a junior, and he's been enrolled in a promising drug trial which hopefully will help him manage his illness, or at least alleviate the anxiety he feels when he sees the people in his visions.

"I really didn't want to be crazy. Nobody wants to be crazy, but now that I know what's happening to me, now that I understand what's going on in my head, I don't want to think about what it means to know you're crazy. To know that your family knows you're crazy."

While starting a new school is always daunting, he's determined to keep his illness a secret so nobody treats him differently or starts to worry they can't be around him. He also has to struggle with keeping a brave face for his mother and stepfather, both of whom worry about him, but Adam knows that even his stepfather is a little concerned about their safety if things go awry. It's a lot of pressure, but he believes the drug will help him weather it.

As with almost anyone new in school, Adam must deal with a bully who believes he is better than anyone else because his parents are wealthy, but he also makes a good friend and tries keeping his head down as much as possible. And then he meets Maya—beautiful, fiercely intelligent and opinionated, and someone for whom Adam wants to remain well and act as "normally" as possible. But that means hiding a part of himself from her, even if she may be more observant than he realizes.

"I'm not afraid of telling Maya about me. At least not in the same way I'm afraid of losing control. It's just not something I want to think about too much. I want to keep her far enough away so she won't ever have to see me as I actually am. I don't want to lose my secrets, because they keep me safe...I guess I just don't want her to know the truth. I'm afraid of what she'd do with the information. I doubt she'd ever climb through my window again. She might even be afraid to be alone with me. It might ruin the way she looks at me with her side smile, the one that secretly makes me feel like I'm waking up on the first day of summer vacation."

Adam and Maya grow closer and closer, and their feelings for each other grow deeper and deeper. At the same time, the drug Adam has been taking starts failing, and it's making him more anxious, making his symptoms more vivid and less easy to hide. He's trying to hold it together the best he can, but with pressure from all sides, he's unsure how much longer he can keep his secret before people start to think of him differently, and their relationships change, something he fears more than his illness.

I've honestly never known anyone who was schizophrenic (or, I guess, never had anyone share their diagnosis), so I appreciated the unfiltered look at the illness that Words on Bathroom Walls gave me. This is a powerful, moving, emotional book which does a beautiful job capturing an adolescent's struggle with keeping up appearances, both for himself and those around him, and the pressures that causes.

This book really made me think. I realized how even our best intentions get outweighed by our inner fears and prejudices, no matter how hard we try. I also never thought about how a person living with an illness might feel if someone with the same illness does something wrong; in this case, Adam's feelings and those around him after the shooting in Sandy Hook, since the shooter was schizophrenic. What a powerful scene, one which really opened my eyes.

There was so much to like about this book. Julia Walton is a fantastic writer, and her characters were truly fascinating, even if they didn't always behave the way you hoped they might. Adam was insightful, sarcastic, and sensitive, but I didn't find him or his friends more erudite than typical teenagers. I also loved the fact that Walton had her characters react in what you think would be realistic ways to the situations around them.

My only criticism of the book was that some of the plot was really predictable, and that disappointed me a bit. One event I absolutely saw coming, and it irritated me when it actually happened, even though I know it was true to how that character would react. I also wondered if Walton was hinting that Adam's friend had some medical issues of his own, but then that storyline never picked up again, so I don't know whether that was intentional or not.

The truth is, though, those are minor little gripes. Words on Bathroom Walls is beautifully written and definitely will make you feel, and it may also make you think. It was a special book I'll think about for quite some time.

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