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Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Friday, May 29, 2015

Made You Up
Francesca Zappia

Genre: YA ContemporaryMystery
Hardback: 448 Pages
Publication: May 19, 2015
by Greenwillow

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.

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.


I fell in love with Made You Up from the time lobsters were first mentioned. That first lobster scene is so cute, so precious, so full of feels. I never questioned if it was real or not. But then . . . .

Made You Up is a novel that will make you question everything that you see. I would think that Alex perceives reality only to later question it only to later question my doubts. Made You Up is a mind boggling read.

Alex's unreliable narration is both the charm and the major flaw of this novel. On the one hand, I love the complexity that Zappia creates by intertwining reality and delusions so that we, the readers, finds ourselves questioning everything that we're told. In the process, we come a little closer to understanding what it would be like to be unable to discern what's real and what isn't real. That said, I do want to acknowledge that Zappia wraps up the novel rather cleanly. By the end, we learn what's real and what existed only in Alex's mind down to the smallest details we wouldn't have thought to question. This means that Alex also learns the truth. While it's nice as a reader to get the closure, I doubt events will always wrap up so nicely in reality, and I encourage readers to keep this in mind while reading Made You Up.

The major flaw of having an unreliable narrator is that we cannot ever completely trust the narrator. Yes, we shouldn't ever completely trust the narrator of any book we read because any narrator is going to have his or her biases, and some narrators may even have a reason to lie. (Ever study Jane Eyre or The Marquise of O in a college class?) In the case of Made You Up, however, you can't trust that everything you see actually happens. For example, Tucker so rarely appears after Miles is introduced that, even though I saw him interact with people other than Alex, I began to doubt that he really existed. I began to think that maybe Alex made up those interactions. You can see what a headache I was beginning to develop by the time Zappia began to clear things up for me. (Yes, Tucker really exists . . . rather, this other thing you thought was real isn't real at all . . .  and so forth.) Though I began to question my sanity, I actually enjoyed the "big reveals" at the end (except for that one tragic one . . . how could "that" not be real???? Whhhyyyyyyyy?????). Made You Up is like a puzzle. Once the pieces begin to click into place, you begin to recognize the discrepancies that have taken place, and everything begins to make more sense. I believe that Made You Up is a novel that will be fun to reread for clues that you didn't pick up at first read.

Family is not entirely absent from the novel. Longtime readers of the blog know how much I value family. I believe that family is integral to our identities. Even if we're at a stage of our life where we don't particularly like certain members of our family, that's also a part of who we are. In Alex's case, her family influences her through how her parents react to her seeing things that exist only in her imagination and to her paranoia. While I don't particularly like how Alex treats her mom or how Miles talks to her mom in one scene, I can understand how she feels. Back in high school, there were many many times when I felt like my mom couldn't understand me, and those feelings led to resentment and feelings that I lacked control of my life. I appreciate how Alex comes to realize the love that her parents feel for her and decides to seek the treatment that her parents were considering. Her love for her sister is especially touching. While she does treat Charlie as The Annoying Younger Sibling at times, it's clear that she deeply cares for her young sister and treasures her existence.

What I really love about Made You Up is that, while Alex may have schizophrenia, Made You Up is not a story about schizophrenia. It is the story about a girl (and a boy) dealing with the insanity of high school life, and our narrator just so happens to have schizophrenia, which makes it just a little more difficult to work through the insanity of high school. I recommend this for readers who enjoy reading a (somewhat) lighthearted coming-of-age story with some crazy high school adventures and a little dose of mystery.

Literary Value:
I believe that it is important to have different kinds of books out there that show different people living different kinds of lives. Alex's story gives us a place where we can get a glimpse of what it may be like to live with paranoid schizophrenia. I do emphasize the "may" given that Zappia was never diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia or has personal ties to schizophrenia. At the same time, she does try to portray the real deal. In an interview at Bettgeschichten, Zappia says, "I read books on it, I watched documentaries, and I went online to forums where people who have schizophrenia were discussing the illness." Most importantly, Made You Up shows how, while Alex may have schizophrenia, it doesn't take over her life. She is a normal high school girl who is just having a little more trouble than most working through the insanities of high school life.

Content (contains potential spoilers):
  • Language: There is a fair amount of cussing, especially of the f-word, including a scene where Miles cusses at Alex's parents. There is one line where Alex irreverently uses Jesus's name. Alex and Miles are called names that have negative connotations (Communist and Nazi).
  • Sexual content: At a party, Alex sees two people undressed and in the process of having sex in a bedroom. At the same party, she sees two people wrapped around each other and making out at the bonfire. She and a boy remove their clothing while making out in her room, but they do not have sex. There is also an instance where they break into someone's house and find a room with stalker material. An older man harasses a student (suggested but not shown).
  • Violence: There is some violence, mostly people throwing punches around, and it isn't explicit. The largest incidence of violence would be a brawl that takes place in Alex's workplace towards the end of the novel. We hear about and see things that suggest domestic violence in someone's home. There are also instances of bullying that involve breaking and entering and putting Icy Hot in someone's underwear.
  • Graphic images: Some of the things that Alex sees are graphic but not in super great detail. The scariest part would be the psychological factor, such as when and where she sees them.
  • Mental illness: This is a book in which mental illness plays a large role. 

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

  • N/A

  • Language (cussing)
  • Kissing, making out (in one instance of making out, people remove their clothes but do not have sex)
  • Sex, not explicit
  • Some minor violence

4 comments on "Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia"
  1. I love how specific you are with your content information - that's great for YA books especially. I'll have to remember to come back here if I'm debating whether a book is okay for my thirteen-year-old. I was debating reading this book, but now that I've read so many good things about it, I think I'm going to pick it up!!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. Thanks, Nicole. I've recently started adding more specific content information since this is information that I would want to know myself before letting my (future) children read a book. Made You Up has been one of my favorite YA reads this year. I hope that you enjoy it, Nicole!

  2. I loved this one so much. It was breathtaking, moving, and powerful. Books about mental illness are tricky because you have to pull them off well, portray it and the people with it correctly, and I think Zappia did a great job. This was an amazing debut and I will definitely be checking out her future books.


    1. I agree. Zappia did a fantastic job with Made You Up. I can't wait to see her next novel! :)


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