Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review- Life Is But A Dream by Brian James

Life Is But a Dream
by Brian James
Feiwel and Friends
Available March 27th


Sabrina, an artist, is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and her parents check her into the Wellness Center. There she meets Alec, who is convinced it's the world that's crazy, not the two of them. They are meant to be together; they are special. But when Alec starts to convince Sabrina that her treatment will wipe out everything that makes her creative, she worries that she'll lose hold of her dreams and herself. Should she listen to her doctor? her decision may have fatal consequences.

Brian James calls Life is But a Dream "the most intense book I've written. Bringing this unique character to life and seeing the world through her eyes, with all its beauty and confusion, was an immense challenge that I hope is just as rewarding to read as it was to write." Intense--yes. Unforgettable--definitely.


Sabrina is young, 15, and I thought that was too young for schizophrenia, but I was informed by my 15 yr old that they just studied it in Health and that it isn't too young. So my tax dollars at work, he learned something! But I do think it's unusual. Still it happens to Sabrina and though she's delusional she's strong in some ways. She was taken advantage of and her mind just built a different, though pretty world around the ugly things kids did to her. In fact, she escaped from reality all the time and by escape, she got totally engrossed in her fantasy so that she lost track of time, days, what was going on around her. Her delusions are beautiful, fairies and painting the sky, she's searching for heaven. No, she's not suicidal.

I have no way of judging if Brian James did a good job of portraying what it's like to have "acute schizophrenia." I have nothing to compare it to and the only research I saw that he did was pick up a hitchhiker who shared with him what it was like to have schizophrenia.* But this isn't a "Guide for Schizophrenics." It's just a fictional account of a girl falling into her delusional life, believing the boy she meets in therapy that says the drugs are just going to make her a robot person. Alec. Alec the angry boy who falls for the delusional girl that paints pretty pictures for him that calm him down. But he doesn't realize how serious she is. And she doesn't realize he doesn't believe in her dream. That they will walk into the sun in the ocean, hand in hand and the world will fall to dust all around them and they will be in heaven. What he sees as metaphor she sees as reality.



I think Alec is so busy being angry at the world, at his parents, at his doctors, that he doesn't really take the time to really hear her. He listens and Sabrina believes he's the only one that's ever understood her, but the things he tells her only feeds her paranoia and just when she's getting better, he undoes everything. He tells her they are the only normal ones. And tells her how to fake taking her medicine. And that if she takes her medicine, she'll become one of them. Sabrina has been noticing her escaping has not been working and now she realizes it's the medicine. They are changing her. And her paranoia sets in deep. Unknowingly, Alec makes her much, much worse because they never tell each other what their diseases are,they just describe what the doctors say is wrong with them. The word schizophrenia never comes up.

I think Mr. James tells a great story about a girl coming undone and no one really hearing her. A story about a young girl who knows she's not right, she's special but she doesn't quite understand why it's wrong to be this kind of special. And she's not sure why she should let go of this specialness since it is who she is. Mr. James definitely got that right. As a person that has to take many psychiatric drugs on a daily basis, I fight with that too. And I understand not wanting to change who you are. As soon as Sabrina starts being more lucid, she starts missing her dreams, her escapes from reality. Facing reality is scary and dreaming is much more preferable. So when she feels her escape being taken away, she feels like she's changing, losing herself. I totally identify with her. It's kind of like when you're drinking and you're uninhibited so that you're more social. You'd like to be that way all the time, right? But you can't drink all the time, there are rules. For Sabrina, they are taking away those feelings that she uses to cope as she gets better. It's a good thing, but it's hard to lose when you've always had it.

The story is really beautifully written as Sabrina's delusions are descriptive and original. She's artistic so her delusions are as well. Mr. James isn't flowery in his descriptions yet they are poetic and painted all the same. After the fateful meeting with Alec, I could feel the ball rolling down the hill as Sabrina's mind gained momentum toward her explosive rock bottom, until no one could be trusted, even her own reflection. It's very intense, almost like waiting for a thunderstorm. When they separate her from Alec, she wants to leave the hospital immediately. No one realizes the true effect he's had on her, not even Alec.

I enjoyed reading this story so much. It was told from Sabrina's point of view and it was so mesmerizing reading her thought process. She was lucid at times, remembering to pretend to act normal and other times, completely lost. So foreign to any mental illness I've ever known. And so frightening. And the story was completely different in a good way. Told from the point of view of the person with the mental illness, the victim of the disease, it never vilified her as something evil or soul sucking or a potential murderer. She was the victim of a disease, a "chemical imbalance". I was almost giddy to see it described like that. Why, oh, because that's what many mental illnesses are. And the medicines bring balance back and make a person stable.

I don't know much about schizophrenia. The little I do know is that I'm glad it isn't the disorder I have. But I have been told by mental health professionals that people with the disease can lead very productive lives. So there's hope. And that's kind of where I was left at the end of this book, with some hope. And I applaud Mr. James for his writing, for the inventiveness of Sabrina's delusions and dreams and for writing from the sick person's point of view. Thank you for not making her someone to be hated or pitied. Yes, this is personal for me.
*Brian James, the author, reached out to me on Goodreads to let me know it he did a lot of research on schizophrenia and that his mention of the hitch hiker was merely a shout out for all his valuable and brave sharing of what his daily life is like living with the illness.
Thank you to MacMillian and Feiwel and Friends for allowing me to read an ARC of this via NetGalley.
This in no way influenced my review of this novel.

Heather

18 comments:

  1. Wonderful Review my friend. However, I'm not sure about to pick this one up. It sunds very intense and I'm not up dealing with such deep issues. But, I think it's brave to explore this topic and I hope many people will read it and think about it.. The cover is wonderful and perfectly adding to the premise of the story!

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    1. Danny-

      Yes, the cover is perfect. She feels so fragile in the book, but you wouldn't believe what she can do and how she manages. I think you might be surprised by this book. It isn't sad or dark. Especially as you see the world through Sabrina's eyes, the world is painted beautiful colors, the clouds are all shaped like animals and with the swipe of her hand she can paint it all another color. It's very beautifully written. I like it the most because it finally shows the other side of mental illness, what it's like to have it. But I get it. I won't ever read horror, no matter how much you tell me it's got to be read! :)

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  2. Wow - what a fabulously in depth and person review Heather. The book sounds great - I'll have to try get a copy if it's not too pricey and on Kindle. :) I'll be interested to read a book with this perspective on mental illness. I have worked with this disorder an studied it somewhat to do so, along with the usual study via my psychology degree. We met the 'Hearing Voices' founders too, who are hugely influential and inspirational sufferers who teach how to accept the illness and voices as part of it, and how to manage it medication-less. (Although I don't advise anyone to think this is possible alone !!) X

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    1. I can't imagine managing it without medication. Hearing voices for Sabrina is "static". It's interesting how that works on her. I always thought people with schizophrenia heard voices telling them to do things, but no so with Sabrina, her auditory delusions are different. I'm quite sure you know much more than me. I have only studied the particular disorders that affect my family.

      I think you'd enjoy it if you can get a copy.

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  3. "she's special but she doesn't quite understand why it's wrong to be this kind of special."

    That makes me just want to reach in and hug Sabrina! I'm hearing such great things about this book and your review only confirms those things, so I'm looking forward to picking this one up! I like the idea of seeing through Sabrina's eyes and comparing how she sees the world with how I see it. Truly stunning review Heather!

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    1. Thanks Jenny! That means a lot to me! I really think you'd like this, it's not your typical YA fare, but it's really good. I was mesmerized by the way Sabrina saw the world. It was a pretty place if only it was real!

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  4. I've worked with people diagnosed with Schizophrenia before and the disease can range from moderate to severe but I agree that a diagnosis at the age of 15 is highly unlikely. The first 'psychotic' break generally happens in young adulthood around 18-22 yo. It's frightening for everyone involved. Rarely are their delusions pleasant, though :(

    The book sounds wonderful and inspiring, I wonder where the author got his resources to write from a schizophrenics POV?
    It made me so sad to hear about the abuse she suffered from others and I'm really interested in the relationship between her and Alec.

    Fantastic review, Heather and this one's going on my TBR list :o]

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    1. Kristi- I did bother to look it up on Google and it does say that sometimes it can start in prepubescent years and the hardest symptoms occur right after puberty. So it can happen in people that age, though it isn't common. I can't imagine how hard it is for them.

      The story of how she ended up in the Wellness Center is told through flashbacks and that's where you learn what the other kids did to her. It wasn't because of her schizophrenia but because she was vulnerable.

      And Alec was her romance. She fell in love or rather they fell in love. I'm not giving away secrets. It happens pretty early on. It's a great novel.

      Thank you!

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  5. I have worked with kids who have mental problems and so this makes me curious about Sabrina and what she goes through. I don't recall anyone with a schizoid diagnosis, but often those diagnoses come in the early 20s or so (sorry, psych major). This one sounds very intense and your review has me really wanting to dive into the book. I'm in agreement with Jenny... stunning review!

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    1. Thank you Melissa! I didn't know so many of you were in the field! I'm in it as a patient and I get disheartened by all the books that portray people with mental health issues as burdens to their families. As if that helps any of us feel any better! I just liked the tone of this one. It showed the opposite perspective. And it was interesting to see the world through her eyes.

      It is intense, but I didn't consider it dark. I hope you do read it!

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  6. Oooh, this one sounds really good. I love books that focus on mental health (one area I think I will love to work in once I'm an RN). I haven't heard about this one before and will have to go and check it out now. Thanks.

    - Jessica @ Book Sake

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    1. You'll like this one. It flashes back to the things that led up to what put her in the "Wellness Center" and then what a day is like in the Center. It's a very good novel.

      Heather

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  7. Hello!
    This sounds like a great disorder related book. Very thoughtful review! thanks for telling me about it!
    Rachel

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    1. Your welcome! Like I said, I don't know how accurate the portrayal was, but I enjoyed the book and it was nice to finally read a disorder book from the person with disorder's point of view.

      Heather

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  8. Ive spent a lot of time with schizophrenics and it runs in my family. I'm not sure I could read this book but yet I'm very curious too. It sounds fascinating but a bit dark. Glad you enjoyed it though!

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    1. You know, it was intense in that you could see Sabrina sliding back into her deluded state of mind, but she didn't act like typical schizophrenics are portrayed on t.v. and movies. She was quiet almost hippie like in her delusions. It wasn't dark. At least not to me. She was very happy in her delusions. It was a good novel.

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  9. Wonderful review, Heather! Seriously love how you described everything and I so agree about pretty much everything mentioned. So glad you liked it too!

    Also, the reply you wrote to Danny is so true! It wasn't the dark, intense read you would think. It was quite happy from her point of view. It was almost intense in that way that everything was more! The beautiful things were more, but so were the awful things she saw. And when it all started to get mixed up with reality, it got emotionally intense as we got to see her struggle! If I make any sense here! Lol. I'll stop rambling! But again, fantastic review!

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  10. I agree with you about the writing. I had just read a book with fantastic writing featuring a character in a mental hospital so I had high expectations and I thought the writing for this was also luscious and incredibly enjoyable.

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