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.
Freaks Like Us interested me for two reasons: one, the synopsis sounded really different, like nothing I’d read before. And two, I’ve read one of Susan Vaught’s previous books – Going Underground – and I really liked it. So I was quick to request this one.
I found it to be a really challenging book, but in a good way. It’s definitely not something that everyone would enjoy, at least I don’t think so. The main character is a schizophrenic and it’s written from his perspective, so it tends to get very rambly at times and it’s full of run-on sentences and the like. Normally something like this would really bother me but here it didn’t, and I believe that’s due to the character’s condition. It’s not just a “creative” writing style, but it’s an honest portrayal of Jason’s illness.
You can’t help but feel for Jason. Overall he seems like a very good & sweet guy who is struggling to live with his illness with varying degrees of success. His medication makes him sluggish and fuzzy-headed, but if he doesn’t take it he’s unable to concentrate and sees things that aren’t there. A true no-win situation. Your heart breaks for him because deep down he loves his friend Sunshine – who has issues of her own (aside from being missing), but he has no real idea how to tell her or even any real ability to act on it or form a romantic relationship. Their other best friend, Drip, forms the third part of their little group. They refer to themselves as “alphabets” based on their diagnoses.
Vaught handles mental illness with a great deal of respect. She neither glamorizes it nor trivializes it, she just tells it pretty much like it is. It’s not something that can be pushed aside or manipulated for the sake of plot development or to give a happy ending. It’s a very real part of the lives of many people and it’s something that they deal with on a day to day basis. That said, I wish the marketing blurb would have left out the words “laugh out loud funny.” I didn’t find anything at all funny about the book. It’s raw and touching and sometimes sad (I found myself getting teary-eyed more than once, which was awkward since I read it on a plane) but I can honestly say I didn’t even come close to chuckling because there’s really nothing funny about any situation in the book.
As I said, this is a book that I think will require a certain type of reader, particularly one who will not mind the somewhat jarring writing style. That said, it’s a very quick and well-written read. Recommended if you’re looking for a contemporary that is a little outside the box.