Book Review: Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught

Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught cover

Freaks Like Us
by Susan Vaught
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: September 4th 2012
Rating: fast paced and well written

Freaks Like Us is a reread. I had read this several years ago and liked it. The main character Jason "Freak" Milwaukie is a seventeen-year-old who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia.  The novel is written in the first person, and it is an excellent example of an unreliable narrator.  There are many things that he can't remember, or has "fake memories" of, or worries about doing, or sees that are just not there.  Not only do the people around him distrust his input but Jason has learned to distrust even his own thoughts.

The writing was engaging.  Jason hears many different voices regularly, and the author did a great job showing how that might feel and how difficult it would be to participate even in everyday conversation. He was an entirely sympathetic character and despite the difficulties that he deals with he never comes across as whiny.  Even his very dark moments where he seems powerless the reader still sees his inner drive.  

Because Jason has difficulty focusing the supporting characters are less clear than they normally would be.  It 's hard to become close to the other characters because Jason can't get close to them or even observe them clearly.  Everything they say or do is filtered through his mental illness.  Often he fixates of a trivial aspect of what is going on.  The way that another character sounds when they breathe or the color of a shirt rather than on about what or how that character is speaking with him. Because of this the character or Sunshine becomes even more important, and her loss even more poignant.  Jason sees her clearly even when she is not physically there.

I did a quick look through the reviews on Goodreads to see if there was anyone who took issue with the representation of Schizophrenia, selective mutism, and ADHD in this novel.  It felt authentic to me but because I don't struggle with any of these issues I have not been sensitized to their representation. What seems realistic and respectful to me might be completely off and painful to someone who knows better. Fortunately, I haven't seen that. I did question why Drip would be in a self-contained classroom if his diagnosis is ADHD.  It doesn't seem as if that would be the least restrictive environment for him.  I am a special education teacher, so these kinds of classroom placement questions stick out for me.

Almost the entity of the plot has to do with the mystery of Sunshines disappearance and the following 24 hours. It highlighted how vulnerable people with mental illness are when they are in the proximity of a crime. Especially someone like Jason whose brain often tells him  They can so easily become the scapegoat.  In Freaks Like Us this tendency is directly acknowledged.  Jason has to learn to overcome to his internalized bias as well as address the external injustice. 

I have read three books by Susan Vaught and have liked all of them.  I notice that she has quite a few more books and I will be looking into her backlist.  

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From Goodreads:

When Jason Milwaukee's best friend Sunshine vanishes, Jason knows that something is terribly wrong, but solving her disappearance will require pushing through all the voices in his head and then getting the world to listen to him. His schizophrenia is stopping him from remembering the events leading up to her disappearance, and often he discounts his own memories, and his own impressions. But his deep knowledge that he would never hurt his friend, plus the faith of his parents and a few others in the town bring him to the point of solving the mystery. In the end, it's Sunshine's own love for Jason (Freak) that persuades him of his own strength and goodness.

By turns brilliantly witty and searingly honest, Susan Vaught's newest novel is a laugh-out-loud, tear-jerking, coming-of-age story.