Friday 30 September 2016

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Review: Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley

Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey WhaleyHighly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley (Proof) - Sixteen year old Solomon has agoraphobia. He hasn't left his house in three years, which is fine by him. At home, he is the master of his own kingdom--even if his kingdom doesn't extend outside of the house.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to go to a top tier psychiatry program. She'll do anything to get in.

When Lisa finds out about Solomon's solitary existence, she comes up with a plan sure to net her a scholarship: befriend Solomon. Treat his condition. And write a paper on her findings. To earn Solomon's trust, Lisa begins letting him into her life, introducing him to her boyfriend Clark, and telling him her secrets. Soon, Solomon begins to open up and expand his universe. But all three teens have grown uncomfortably close, and when their facades fall down, their friendships threaten to collapse as well.
From Goodreads.

I really enjoyed Noggin by John Corey Whaley, so when I heard he had written Highly Illogical Behaviour, about a boy with agoraphobia and the girl who wanted to cure him so she could write about it in her college admittance essay, I was so eager to read it! And even more so when I heard it was an #OwnVoices novel. But I finished it with mixed feelings.

Three years ago, Solomon Reed had a panic attack at school that he couldn't control, leading to him stripping down to his boxers and climbing into the school fountain. Since then, Solomon's anxiety has led to him becoming agoraphobic; all the things that cause him to panic are outside, so why leave? He's getting by much better now, and sure, it's quiet, he's alone a lot of the time, and it gets a bit samey, but this is how he has to live to survive.
Lisa Praytor was at school the day Solomon climbed into the fountain, and she's not been able to stop thinking about him since. What could cause a boy to do that? Where is he now? When she rediscovers Solomon by chance, she learns of his anxiety and agoraphobia. She knows Solomon is just what she needs; she wants to be a psychologist, and for her college scholarship admittance essay , she has to write about her experience with mental illness, and she knows Solomon is her ticket out of town. And he needs her as much as she needs him, because she can help him. She'll cure him, he'll be better, and she'll write an incredible essay and leave. Win-win for everyone.
Anxiety isn't something that can easily be fixed, but the friendship that grows between Solomon, Lisa, and Lisa's boyfriend, Clark, change Solomon. But can a friendship based on lies last?

I want to start off with the positives. As someone who suffers with anxiety, I can say the way Solomon talked about his anxiety and the descriptions of his panic attacks were simply spot on - not in the sense that the panic attacks described are how I experience panic attacks, though there are some similarities, but more that Whaley knew what he was talking about. He got it; he gets anxiety and how debilitating it can be, how it can affect you, and how you can react to it. The desire to do what you can to make sure you have fewer panic attacks. I recently finished a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and because of this new knowledge and understanding of anxiety, I was able to recognise certain behaviours, the actions Solomon takes - not leaving the house being the biggest - in order to not have so many panic attacks. It made me so sad, and I wanted to give Solomon the biggest hug, because he obviously hadn't been given the help he needed. This side of things was just perfect, and is another case of why #OwnVoices novels are so important; this book could help readers understand anxiety better, and help those who experience it feel less alone. In that respect, this book is incredible.

However, I didn't overly enjoy the story. The premise is incredible, but I just wasn't as gripped by the story as I wanted to be. It's a very short book, and not a huge amount happens, in the great scheme of things. This isn't down to the fact that Solomon is agoraphobic; Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall is another YA novel with an agoraphobic protagonist, but a lot still happens in the story. It's not the setting or the limitations caused by Solomon's agoraphobia that prevented this story from being a gripping one, I think it might have been the length. Weeks go by in a matter of pages, so we don't get to see a lot of the interaction between Solomon, Lisa and Clark. Mostly, they're chatting, playing games, or watching TV, and... well, it's just not that interesting.

Things got a little more interesting when Lisa starts questioning her relationship with Clark, and his very close friendship with Solomon. Solomon is gay, and it doesn't take long for him to realise he has feelings for Clark, and Lisa can see that. Even before they started hanging out with Solomon, Lisa had her best friend tell her at every opportunity that she thinks Clark is gay, and seeing his friendship with Solomon, she finds herself worrying it might be true. This is a small part of the overall novel, but at least it was something.

I think the other major problem I had with this novel is that I didn't like Lisa. I know I'm not supposed to, but I was unable to warm to her at all. She is selfish and self-centred, and completely clueless. She truly believes she can "fix" Solomon, that she, a seventeen-year-old, will be able to do what professionals have yet to and make Solomon better. And she uses Solomon for her own gain, he is her guinea pig in an experiment. I can understand that in the scope of the novel, her purpose is to show how some people truly don't understand mental illness, that they don't realise you can't just wave a magic wand and "fix" or "cure" them, but that's not why I dislike her. I could forgive her for not getting it. What I can't forgive her for is how she used Solomon, someone who was suffering, for her own selfish gain. Her audacity is unbelievable, and completely reprehensible. And as this novel is dual narrated by her and Solomon, I was seething through half the story, every time she narrated. I couldn't stand her. She and Clark may have ended up helping Solomon in small ways, but that was down to their friendship, not to Lisa's attempts at "curing" him. And that friendship was a lie, anyway. Yes, she helped him, but there's potential for so much damage too, and I simply cannot believe her arrogance and carelessness. I don't think I have ever disliked a narrator quite so much.

But perhaps I'm meant to. She was written this way after all, perhaps that was Whaley's plan. If that's the case, the book has done what it set out to. But Lisa is meant to come across as redemable in the end, and I'm just not buying it. She is absolutely loathsome, and I cannot stand her.

So Highly Illogical Behaviour is a novel that has me torn. It deals with anxiety and agoraphobia brilliantly, but the story itself was a let down, with a narrator I completely abhore. I really don't know if I'd recommend this novel or not. For the brilliant depiction of anxiety, and a narrator that will have your blood boiling - if that is what she's supposed to do - then yeah, give it a read. But it's also a story that I didn't find very gripping. It's a mixed bag, I guess.

Thank you to Faber Children's Books for the proof.

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Published: 26th May 2016
Publisher: Faber & Faber
John Corey Whaley's Website


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