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#MHYALit: Creating Georgia, A Mentally Ill Character – a guest post by author Yvonne Prinz

Today we are honored to host author Yvonne Prinz as part of the #MHYALit Discussion

In 1990 I moved to San Francisco from Canada, met my husband, and opened a record store in Berkeley, just over the Bay Bridge. Berkeley, for a variety of reasons, has a large homeless population, something I wasn’t familiar with, coming from a frigid socialist country. I started to take particular notice of a thin black woman on the street. Her name was Celeste. She always seemed to be having a conversation with an imaginary person, sometimes shouting, sometimes seeming to be in extreme anguish and pain, and sometimes fearful of something the rest of us could not see. I gave her things from time to time: a sandwich, a sweater, soap, money. Sometimes she seemed happy to see me, and other times she shouted accusations at me. She came into the store every day to exchange her sticky panhandled coins for paper dollars. Sometimes her hair was combed and her clothes were neat and clean, and other times she smelled and her clothes were dirty and her eyes looked wild. There are a lot of people like Celeste in Berkeley. It’s likely that these people are unmedicated (and in some cases undiagnosed) schizophrenics (At any given time, there are more people with untreated severe psychiatric illnesses living on America’s streets than are receiving care in hospitals. Approximately 90,000 individuals with schizophrenia or manic-depressive illness are in hospitals receiving treatment for their disease). One day Celeste simply vanished. I imagined her getting the help she needed and telling someone, “You know, I was even homeless for a while.” But I never saw her again.

In teenagers, schizophrenia is generally diagnosed between the late teens and early twenties. Genetics plays a big part in the illness and medical research is closing in on some other triggers. In my book If You’re Lucky, the main character, Georgia, was diagnosed at sixteen after a very troubled childhood and a series of incidents led her to Dr. Saul, a local psychiatrist near the hamlet of False Bay on the North Coast of California, where her family lives.

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When he got the results from all the tests, Dr. Saul told me that I was likely suffering from chronic paranoid schizophrenia. He told me that I didn’t need to worry, that there were good drugs and we would keep it under control. He said that I could live a normal life, or almost normal. That’s when he started me on meds. I am nowhere near normal.

On the first page of If You’re Lucky, Georgia learns that her only sibling, Lucky, a likeable, easy-going adventurer, has drowned in a surfing accident in Australia. This event sends her reeling. She very quickly goes from somewhat stable to fragile to increasingly volatile to believing that her dead brother, who starts to appear to her as a ghost, is trying to tell her something urgent.

In researching the novel, I interviewed a psychiatrist who described what his schizophrenic patients reported before and after diagnosis. He told me about a woman who was convinced that her husband wanted to kill her. And a teen who had gone on vacation to Venice and run through the narrow streets, sure that someone was pursuing her, until she melted down on the cobblestones. Many of his patients heard voices in their heads until they found the right meds. He also explained that many of his patients reported negative side effects from the meds and wanted to go off them at one time or another, convinced that they were better and sometimes even that they were never ill in the first place. All of this informed Georgia’s story. She feels the side effects of her meds; her headaches are constant. And eventually she makes the catastrophic decision to go off them so that she can better “hear” what her dead brother is trying to tell her.

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I also wanted to create a comfort zone for Georgia. She has mad baking skills and she’s better when she’s busy with her hands. My research taught me that structure and creativity are positive things in the life of a schizophrenic. Georgia has a job making desserts at the Heron Inn, just up the road from her house. The inn is a safe haven for her, and her desserts earn her respect from the Innkeepers and guests and even the arrogant Swiss French chef, Marc. It’s a source of pride for her and a good way for the reader to gage Georgia’s stability—when the baking starts to go bad, it’s clear that Georgia is not OK.

By the time I pulled the muffins from the oven they were scorched on top. I had to throw them away. I didn’t care about muffins anymore. I didn’t really care about anything except Lucky and uncovering the truth.

Georgia is the ultimate in unreliable narrators. Her troubled past casts doubt on what she states as fact, and when she goes off her meds her grip on reality loosens. The biggest challenge in creating her and her story was to keep the reader wondering what was real and what was a delusion. I wanted the reader to want to believe Georgia but always with a nagging doubt about whether what she was describing was actually happening. Through not revealing what was real and what wasn’t, I wanted the reader to be in Georgia’s shoes and create empathy for her struggles. Her struggles with everyday life, her distrust of strangers, and her bad judgment make her hard to get behind—but what if she’s right?

Hope for Georgia comes with vindication when she finally uncovers the truth and is taken seriously. This is of the utmost importance to her. She wants people to know that not all of what she sees is related to her illness and that she might have something important to say. She wants to feel that her connection to her brother while he was alive was real and meaningful despite the fact that they were so different and she was so difficult. She wants to feel his love for her and she wants to feel relevant in the community.

My research and resources on paranoid schizophrenia are listed at the end of the book.

BOOK SUMMARY

When seventeen-year-old Georgia’s brother drowns while surfing halfway around the world in Australia, she refuses to believe Lucky’s death was just bad luck. Lucky was smart. He wouldn’t have surfed in waters more dangerous than he could handle. Then a stranger named Fin arrives in False Bay, claiming to have been Lucky’s best friend. Soon Fin is working for Lucky’s father, charming Lucky’s mother, dating Lucky’s girlfriend. Georgia begins to wonder: did Fin murder Lucky in order to take over his whole life?

Determined to clear the fog from her mind in order to uncover the truth about Lucky’s death, Georgia secretly stops taking the medication that keeps away the voices in her head. Georgia is certain she’s getting closer and closer to the truth about Fin, but as she does, her mental state becomes more and more precarious, and no one seems to trust what she’s saying.

As the chilling narrative unfolds, the reader must decide whether Georgia’s descent into madness is causing her to see things that don’t exist—or to see a deadly truth that no one else can. (Algonquin Young Readers, October 2015)

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MEET YVONNE PRINZ is the award-winning author of The Vinyl Princess and All You Get Is Me. A Canadian living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she is the cofounder of Amoeba Music, the world’s largest independent music store.

#MHYALit Reading Lists: Schizophrenia, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

MHYALitlogoofficfialAs part of our 2016 Mental Health in Young Adult Literature project, we will be posting reading lists on various mental health-related subjects. Guest blogger Natalie Korsavidis pulled together this one on schizophrenia. We will mainly be focusing on books published after 2000. We encourage you to add any other titles you can think of in the comments. Interested in generating a list for us? Let us know! I’m @CiteSomething on Twitter. 

 

All summaries here adapted from the the Farmingdale Public Library catalog or NoveList.

 

Schizophrenia in YA

 

BordercoverAnderson, Jessica Lee. Border Crossing. Milkweed Editions, 2009.

Manz, a troubled fifteen-year-old, ruminates over his Mexican father’s death, his mother’s drinking, and his stillborn stepbrother until the voices he hears in his head take over and he cannot tell reality from delusion.

 

 

persistenceAtwater-Rhodes, Amelia. Persistence of Memory. Delacorte Press, 2008.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia as a child, sixteen-year-old Erin has spent half of her life in therapy and on drugs, but now must face the possibility of weird things in the real world, including shapeshifting friends and her “alter,” a centuries-old vampire.

 

 

cameronAverett, Edward. Cameron and the Girls. Clarion Books, 2013.

A boy suffering from Schizophrenia falls into a love triangle with a girl in his junior high class–and a girl in his head.

 

 

 

beforeBock, Caroline. Before My Eyes. St. Martin’s Grifffin, 2014.

Told in three separate voices, dreamy Claire, seventeen, with her complicated home and love life, shy Max, also seventeen, a state senator’s son whose parents are too focused on the next election to see his pain, and twenty-one-year-old paranoid schizophrenic Barkley teeter on the brink of destruction.

 

 

finding aliceCarlson, Melody. Finding Alice. WaterBrook Press, 2009.

On the surface, Alice Laxton seems no different from any other college girl: bright, inquisitive, excited about the life ahead of her. But for years, a genetic time bomb has been ticking away. Because of Alice’s near-genius intelligence, teachers and counselors have always made excuses for her “little idiosyncrasies.” But during a stress-filled senior year at college, a new world of voices, visions, and unexplainable “knowledge” causes Alice to begin to lose her grip on reality.

 

me myselfDenman, K.L. Me, Myself, and Ike. Orca Book Publishers, 2009.

Seventeen-year-old Kit is paranoid, confused and alone, but neither he nor his family and friends understand what is happening to him.

 

 

 

notesEllison, Kate. Notes from Ghost Town. Egmont USA, 2014.

Young artist Olivia Tithe struggles to keep her sanity as she unravels the mystery of her first love’s death through his ghostly visits.

 

 

 

helicopterFensham, Elizabeth. Helicopter Man. Bloomsbury, 2005.

A homeless Australian boy sticks by his schizophrenic father as their fragile world disintegrates in this moving story of courage and devotion.

 

 

schizoFirmstom, Kim. Schizo. James Lorimer, 2011.

Dan is a fairly normal fifteen-year-old, but at home, things aren’t normal at all. His mother is schizophrenic, and her behaviour is only getting more and more erratic. Dan could just run away, but he’s worried about what would happen to the nine-year-old brother he’s fought so hard to protect.

 

 

king ofFuqua, Jonathan Scott. King of the Pygmies. Candlewick Press, 2005.

After hearing what he believes are other peoples’ thoughts, high school sophomore Penn learns that he may have schizophrenia and makes some important decisions about how to live his life.

 

 

running forGonzalez, Ann. Running for My Life. WestSide Books, 2009.

Andrea faces the challenges of high school as her relationship with her schizophrenic mother crumbles, and she searches for support for her own mental illness through her therapist, family, friends, and running.

 

 

life isJames, Brian. Life is But a Dream. Feiwel & Friends, 2012.

When fifteen-year-old Sabrina meets Alec at the Wellness Center where she is being treated for schizophrenia, he tries to persuade her that it is the world that is crazy, not them, and she should defy her doctors rather than lose what makes her creative and special.

 

 

calvinLeavitt, Martine. Calvin. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2015.

Born on the day the last Calvin and Hobbes comic strip was published, seventeen-year-old Calvin, a schizophrenic, sees and has conversations with the tiger, Hobbes, and believes that if he can persuade the strip’s creator, Bill Watterson, to do one more strip, he will make Calvin well.

 

 

lizardPrice, Charlie. Lizard People. Roaring Brook Press, 2007.

While visiting his mentally ill mother at a psychiatric hospital, high school junior Ben Mander starts talking to a young man who claims that he travels back and forth between the present and the year 4000, searching for a cure for mental illness.

 

 

figSchantz, Sarah Elizabeth. Fig. Margaret K. Eldeberry Books, 2015.

In 1994, Fig looks back on her life and relates her experiences, from age six to nineteen, as she desperately tries to save her mother from schizophrenia while her own mental health and relationships deteriorate.

 

 

blue so darkSchindler, Holly. A Blue So Dark. Flux, 2010.

As Missouri fifteen-year-old Aura struggles alone to cope with the increasingly severe symptoms of her mother’s schizophrenia, she wishes only for a normal life, but fears that her artistic ability and genes will one day result in her own insanity.

 

 

schizo scheffSheff, Nic. Schizo. Philomel Books, 2014.

A teenager recovering from a schizophrenic breakdown is driven to the point of obsession to find his missing younger brother and becomes wrapped up in a romance that may or may not be the real thing.

 

 

challengerShusterman, Neal. Challenger Deep. HarperTeen, 2015.

Suffering from schizophrenia, Caden’s internal narratives are sometimes dreams, sometimes hallucinations, and sometimes undefinable, dominated by a galleon and its captain, sailing with an enormous, sullen crew to the deepest point of the Marianas Trench, Challenger Deep.

 

 

17 andSuma, Nova Ren. 17 & Gone. Dutton Books, 2013.

Seventeen-year-old Lauren has visions of girls her own age who are gone without a trace, but while she tries to understand why they are speaking to her and whether she is next, Lauren has a brush with death and a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.

 

 

inside outTrueman, Terry. Inside Out. HarperTempest, 2003.

A sixteen-year-old with schizophrenia is caught up in the events surrounding an attempted robbery by two other teens who eventually hold him hostage.

 

 

freaksVaught, Susan. Freaks Like Us. Trueman, Terry. Inside Out. Bloomsbury, 2012.

Jason is “Freak” to his peers and even his ADHD friend Drip, but not to Sunshine, who–though selectively mute–shares her thoughts and feelings with him. Now she’s vanished, and Jason, whose schizophrenia has shaped his life, is a suspect in her disappearance

 

 

lowboyWray, John. Lowboy. Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2009.

Possessing paranoid schizophrenic beliefs that he can save the planet from climate change by cooling down his own overheated body, sixteen-year-old New York youth Will Heller pursues a terrifying and delusional odyssey through the city’s tunnels and backalleys.

 

 

made you upZappia, Francesca. Made You Up. Greenwillow Books, 2015.

Armed with her camera and 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.

 

 

 

Meet Natalie Korsavidis

natalieNatalie Korsavidis is the Head of Young Adult at the Farmingdale Public Library. She received her MLS at CW Post University. She is currently President of the Young Adult Services Division of the Nassau County Library Association. She has spoken at New York Comic Con and the Long Island Pop Culture Convention.

 

SEE ALL OF THE #MHYALIT POSTS HERE

In the most recent issue of SLJ

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of School Library Journal.

Gr 9 Up—Fig is six years old and spends a lot of time worrying about her mother, Annie. Her mother talks of fairy land, feral dogs lurking in the woods, and the importance of rituals. It is only after her mother attempts suicide that Fig learns the truth: her mother is schizophrenic. The story unfolds over the next 11 years, detailing the many ways Annie’s schizophrenia changes her and affects her family. Through it all, Fig remains determined to save her mother. She begins sacrificing trinkets, thinking this will somehow make her mother get well. She also sacrifices her own needs and creates a Calendar of Ordeals, dictating what she must refrain from each day. The teen exhibits many troubling behaviors and is eventually diagnosed with OCD, but her health is overlooked as the focus remains on her increasingly unwell mother. Fig is often left in the care of her icy grandmother and has no support system. When her uncle catches her cutting herself, she is relieved that someone finally sees her and will hold her accountable, but Fig never stops thinking she can save her mother. This beautifully written story is a painful look at mental illness. An element of fantasy weaves throughout the narrative, with Annie’s tenuous grip on reality and Fig’s magical thinking, and references to fairy tales, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland abound. This dense, literary tale starts slowly, but builds to become an incredibly haunting story about mental illness and family bonds.