Book Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

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.

3.5 stars.

I usually rate books based on how they make me feel rather than their literary merit (whatever that means and however it’s gauged), and this book left me with a mild, bittersweet sort of heartache. I guess I found it poignant. When a book doesn’t have much of a plot, it absolutely must be character driven, and this one was, very successfully so. I loved the prickly, imperfect, mischievous characters; the oddities of fringe high school life; and the anything-and-everything discussions between the characters. It was also so real. Is that an ironic thing to say?

Now, I do have to deduct points for some of the far-fetchedness of the plot (meaning the actual events that happened and not the ones Alex “made up,” as well as the slightly confusing way in which they were conveyed.) I am also wondering if a lot of her schizophrenia wasn’t used as a narrative device to promote teen angst and plot twists. That’s not an appropriate way to portray mental illness in fiction, but I’m not an expert on schizophrenia, so I really can’t judge the accuracy of it in this book. I will say, however, that Alex was a complex character who was NOT defined by her mental illness. She wasn’t “Alex the schizo” or whatever; she was just Alex.

As wonderful as most of the characters were, there were still so many high school tropes that the book could probably have done without: the bitchy, pretty girl and her asshole jock boyfriend; the nerdy guys who still want her, even though they are smart and should know better than to be so shallow; the huge, athletic, peacekeeping, bouncer-type black guy. This book is the author’s debut novel and she wrote it when she was pretty young, so I’ll cut her some slack.

Overall, this book is not your typical YA fare, and I would recommend it, especially to anyone else who’s ever felt offbeat or out of place.

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