Tuesday 24 July 2018

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Mental Illness in YA Month Review: Colour Me In by Lydia Ruffles

Colour Me In by Lydia RufflesNetGalleyColour Me In by Lydia Ruffles (eProof) - Nineteen-year-old actor Arlo likes nothing more than howling across the skyline with best friend Luke from the roof of their apartment.

But when something irreparable happens and familiar black weeds start to crawl inside him, Arlo flees to the other side of the world, taking only a sketchbook full of maps.

With its steaming soup and neon lights, this new place is both comforting and isolating.

There, Arlo meets fellow traveller Mizuki. Something about her feels more like home than he's felt in a while. But what is Mizuki searching for?

From Goodreads.

I received this eProof for free from Hodder Chlildren's Books via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review.

After absolutely loving Lydia Ruffles' debut novel, The Taste of Blue Light, there was no way I wasn't going to read her next novel, Colour Me In. And what an incredible, heartbreaking story it is.

Arlo has a history of mental illness. Two and a half years ago, he had a period of depression that lasted four months, where he could barely get out of bed. Now he's determined to not go back to that place. He's started to notice a change again, but is trying to keep on top of it and has seen a doctor. But when something horrific happens, it just about pushes him over the edge. Unable to deal with what life means now, he runs. He jumps on a plane and flies to the other side of the world to try and escape what has happened, to pretend it didn't happen, and to run from himself and his mind. There, he meets Mizuki, a fellow traveller and photographer, and together they travel the country, visiting abandoned and derelict buildings. But you can't run away from yourself forever, and not dealing with what he's left behind is a trigger he can't escape.

Oh my god, I can't tell you how emotional this book is, nor how beautifully written. The imagery! It's just so gorgeous! It completely broke my heart watching Arlo really struggling with what's happened, hardly believing it's true, not being able to get his around around this new truth. He is so lost, and so he does the only thing he can think of, and runs. Runs from the truth, runs from what's going on in his head - instead of speaking to people and asking for help. He needs to be ok because the last time he had a depressive episode, his being ill was really hard on his mum. And he doesn't want to hurt her again. So he runs, pretends he's fine, and lies. Colour Me In never says where Arlo is, but over time it becomes obvious he's in Japan. To most people, he falls off the face of the earth; to some others, he lies about where he is and what he's doing. He completely loses himself in a foreign country, and doesn't stop running. Then he meets Mizuki, who is lost in her own, and desperately trying to find home again.

I think some people may have a problem with the middle of the book, when Arlo is visiting abandoned and derelict places and buildings with Mizuki, as that's all they pretty much do; look around and take photos. But it's not about what they're doing, it's the friendship they form, the conversations they have, and how Arlo is still struggling with his feelings and his mental health. It's less about what's happening physically, and more about what's happening inside Arlo's head. It's almost as if the places they go to aren't all that important - or hold significance for Arlo, but aren't such a big deal for the reader - but it's still really fascinating, hearing about all these places that have been abandoned, and the state they're left in. And it's great to see the friendship that forms between him and Mizuki.

There are two really important friendships in Colour Me In; Arlo's friendship with his best friend, Luke, and the developing friendship with Mizuki. His friendship with Luke was just beautiful. We don't really see friendships between guys explored with any real depth, but in Colour Me In, we do. Luke is three years older than Arlo, but they have been friends since they were kids. They are so close, and their friendship is so strong - I want to say they're almost like brothers, but that seems to take away from the importance of this male friendship, and somehow loses something. Arlo loves Luke, and Luke loves Arlo. They deeply care about each other, and it's just so wonderful to see. I've never seen a bond between two guys like this who aren't gay. It was beautiful how they care, and how they rely on each other.

And Arlo's friendship with Mizuki matters at first because she doesn't know him - which is important considering he's semi-famous at home for his acting - and she doesn't know what's happening. He can pretend with her that everything is fine, and he's just on a holiday, and he can escape almost being himself - the person who's experienced something awful, the person who's mind is misbehaving, the person who has responsibilities and people have expectations of. But as their friendship develops, They discover that they're both lost. Neither are going through the same thing, but both are experiencing emotional turmoil, and begin to find solace in each other; in their company, in the experiences they're having together, in how, in some ways, the other just understands.

But there is no escaping a mental illness, and Arlo's affects him throughout the story. As I've said, Arlo had a depressive episode in the past...
'Last time, shadows and black weeds twisted through Arlo's brain and body, pinning him in his bed. He was exhausted and hopeless and trapped in a spiral of hateful thoughts. Last time, he'd lashed out and folded inwards. Last time, his hurt had injured his mum in the most unimaginable ways. She'd absorbed it as if it were her own.
The low had lasted almost four months. He's two-and-a-half years clear of the worst of it now but it left a trace.
But last time was the last time. It had come out of nowhere and he won't let it happen again. Life is still desaturated, it's colour downgraded, but he's alive. He has medication when he needs it and exercise and drawing and Luke, and Luke's chicken and broccoli.'
...but he knows there's something up with his mental health now. He's not quite sure what, he doesn't think it's the same as before, but he's scared of getting worse.
'What is up with me?
Things that used to feel like luxuries have started to feel like problems and he hates that. He won't let himself become spoiled. He doesn't think he feels sad this time, not yet anyway, but he's definitely sinking again. Arlo doesn't mind some sadness anyway. It's not as easy to share as happiness, but it fills him up more than numbness and it's better than dread and not knowing why he gets so angry. Why he's so claustrophobic in his own life even though it's a good one.' (7-8%)*
'"I'm wrecked, mate. Night.'
"OK. See you tomorrow."
And just as he's done every evening since he left
The Beat, when the next logical step is to go to bed, Arlo feels the cold arms of panic tighten around him. Imaginary itches start to crawl his skin and he knows the door to sleep has closed with him on the wrong side of it.
In the bathroom, he pops a tablet from its silver sleeve and swallows it with lukewarm water from the tap. He was proud of himself for going to the doctor when he first felt himself slipping again. She'd been kind and suggested a short course of sleeping tablet to see if some sleep could get him back on track. Arlo counts the remaining pills. Only three left. If he doesn't feel better when they're gone, the doctor said to come back to discuss trying something else.

You need to get control of this.
Don't let things get bad again.' (9-10%)*
'A man with matching white gloves hurries passengers on to the train.
Arlo wonders what would happen if someone go pushed under it. Would it still leave on time? These thoughts don't surprise him any more. He just goes through phases where he has to peer through the crack into the darkness of the worst possible thought just to make sure it's not true, that he doesn't want it.
These thoughts aren't mine. Whose are they then?' (33%)*
And he experiences a panic attack while visiting an abandoned clinic with Mizuki:
'When it hits, it's as if a seatbelt comes undone and he sails through shattered glass into a brick wall.
"I have to get out of here."
He says it louder, "I can't be here. I'll wait for you outside."
"I'll come with you, just let me collapse the tripod."
Arlo can't breathe as he's running down the corridor to the clinic exit. Dust and old chemical smells choke him. The place is full of death.
"Wait," Mizuki calls.
He doesn't slow. Needs air.

It's OK. Almost there.' (42%)*
But then Arlo has a manic episode. The manic episode really reminded me of Kiri's experiences in Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, especially with the lack of sleep - Arlo doesn't sleep for a full three days - so it's a possible hypomanic episode. There are no labels or diagnoses in Colour Me In, and in Wild Awake, the story takes place before Kiri seeks help. I know that Kiri has bipolar from the review on Disability in Kidlit - written by someone who has it, too, and recognised it in her - even though it's never mentioned on page. So, with the similarities between Arlo's manic episode and Kiri's, I'm thinking Arlo may have bipolar, too, but I'm not 100% sure on that. It's possibly just a hypomanic episode, which is discussed in Wild Awake. Either way, whatever Arlo's diagnosis/ses would be, he definitely has a manic episode, and even refers to it himself as mania. These three quotes are just a few examples I'm sharing to show his manic episode, and how it progresses:
'His mind revs with sugar and chemicals and an energy he's never felt before as branches scratch at the window near his head. He shines his torch out on to the leaves. They're riddled with black pits and scars. Diseased. Dark, tar black. The tree could die at any moment. Could come crashing through the cracked windows and that would be that. When Arlo closes his eyes he hears toxic roots twisting and tangling under the building, the desperate stretching of its arms reaching for him. He can't be sure but it looks like a giant, dying relative of the tree that he and Mizuki had sat under when they met. Her tree. Bronze twisting through two-tone blossom.' (68%)*
'In his different but identical room, he's found numbers to keep him company. Calculations. The sums are inside him, flashing, demanding to be solved despite his exhaustion.
If there are seven circles on the ceiling, how many are extra, how many are missing?
If I send one text home and receive two back, who is coming to get me?
If I go to sleep now and get up then, I'll have this much sleep. If I sleep ten minutes in every hour, I'll have that much.
He can time travel now too; with all the extra waking hours, two weeks to everyone else is three weeks to him.
If I never sleep again, I'll have a third more waking life than everyone else for the time I'm alive but I won't live as long.
If I get a message from somewhere eight hours behind, someone will come and get me in eight hours' time.' (69%)*
'A 4 a.m. ice cream sundae sits in front of Arlo on the counter, melted back into milk. He eats the too-sweet cherry, aware of his stomach and the tubes leading to and from it.
He stirs the dripping mess, mind fraying, following every thought to and way beyond its natural conclusion.

Ice cream reverts to milk but you can't get it back in the cow. Unless the cow drinks it. You can't un-toast toast or unboil and egg. What comes first, the waking up or the falling asleep?
It's fascinating to Arlo, this inability to switch off. Thoughts starting somewhere and ending up somewhere else entirely. [...]
He can feel his mind disintegrating. Thoughts loop and loop and loop through waves of mania and dullness. Rapid then treacle slow cycling. Buzzing in his ears, the sound of neurons frying and connections fraying. Occasionally he falls down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out why he's like this. Where was the start of this particular episode, or is his life just one long programme of it?
The Arlo Show. Airing 24/7, but only in his head. (70%)*
I just want to touch on the skill it takes to put a manic episode into words. To describe not just the thoughts, and how it feels, but to do so in a way that feels uncomfortable for the reader. With both Wild Awake and Colour Me In, during the manic episodes, I felt like my own mind was falling away from me, and I didn't like it either time, but that just shows stellar writing. So as well as Colour Me In being written so beautifully, but also skillfully.

The following quote shows what I think is more evidence that Arlo may have bipolar:
'Part of him thought that the black weeds might wrap themselves around him again the second he got back, but he just feels empty. Maybe it's the jet lag, but all that frantic energy that had sent him on his hunt to the hospital and around the city has fizzled away. The Arlo who thought that charm was a sign seems like someone else.
There's a voice in the back of his head telling him that episode wasn't like the black summer. It wasn't just
[redacted] either. It had been bubbling up before [redacted]. It had too much colour, too much bad magic. The same voice knows he needs to get back to the doctor before he flies back up or crashes again.' (77-78%)*
I made those last few words bold for emphasis, making me think this may be bipolar.

As I said, there's no diagnosis given, or any kind of label, and there's a small quote that may possibly be referring to labels and diagnoses.
'If someone wrote his life down in a timeline, plotting events, they would make links that aren't really there. People love to attach causes and cures where they don't belong. This happened because that happened, x wouldn't exist without y. Why, why, why? It's in our nature to try to make sense of things.' (70%)*
Colour Me In is just a really incredible, beautiful, heartbreaking story of friendship, feeling and getting lost, and the downward spiral of Arlo's mental illness as he struggles to deal with what he's experienced. It's such a wonderful story, so beautifully written, and so hard-hitting. Lydia Ruffles is now right up there with my favourite authors, and one whose novels I will now auto-buy.

*All quotes are taken from the eProof, and have yet to be checked against a finished copy, so may not be correct.

Thank you to Hodder Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

Mental Illness in YA Month

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Published: 8th August 2018
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
Lydia Ruffles' Website

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