I recently discovered the absolute wonder of Netgalley and was over the moon that something like this site existed. For those unfamiliar with it, Netgalley is a place where bloggers and book reviewers can request galleys of soon-to-be-published books directly from publishers. I, of course, made the ultimate rookie mistake and requested all of the books I could get my hands on, and still have about 10 on my dashboard waiting for me as I didn’t expect to actually be approved for any of them.
First up was My Friends are all Strange by Margaret Lesh. I chose it based on the description – I’m extremely interested in mental illness representation in YA, and I believe its incredibly important to read what’s out there on the subject.
Becca is a high school senior, has a 4.6 GPA and a wizard named Troy is trying to control her with a joystick. Only problem is, Troy is inside her head. After a breakdown in school she’s taken to a psychiatric hospital, where she meets Bobby and Kat – friends who are just as strange as she feels. My Friends are all Strange follows Becca’s journey through hospital and the ups and downs she experienced while in there.
I have mixed feelings on this book. While I really liked the representation of psychiatric hospital – it expressly points out that it’s nothing like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Lesh did an excellent job of describing how safe and secure one can feel if they need to be inside – I wasn’t sure about the representation of psychosis. Doctors in the hospital mention schizophrenia and psychosis though no formal diagnosis is made. Becca is medicated and spends a number of months in hospital, and though she improves while she is in there, I’m not entirely convinced by the suggestion that she was able to magic Troy away with her thoughts simply through the power of dreams – I have no personal experience of psychosis, but I feel it was too simplified.
I’m also not sure about the story itself. I don’t feel as though it told anything, but rather it was a series of events in one time period that weren’t particularly related to each other, or the stakes weren’t high enough – at one point Becca and Roman break up, but it lasts for a mere 26 hours and aside from some deep musing on it, it didn’t have any lasting impact on either character.
As Heather Duke would say, ‘What’s your damage?’
My Friends are All Strange absolutely had its redeeming points – I liked Becca’s character very much, but Kat was the star of the novel. Sweet, adorable Kat with acquired amnesia and a gorgeous outlook on life. Lesh painted a very sad picture of the life of someone with an illness that people still don’t know much about despite numerous studies. Acquired amnesia cases are historically of great interest to neuroscientists and neuropsychologists, but Lesh humanised Kat’s existence in a very visceral way.
Overall I’d say My Friends Are All Strange is 3/5 for me – though I had mixed feelings, I’m still thinking about it several days later.