A Variety of Brains: Schizophrenic YA Characters

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Welcome to A Variety of Brains. Are you looking for a neurodiverse book? I’ve got it listed for you. This week, I’m spotlighting schizophernic YA characters.

A lot of these may not be good representation. It could even be most of them, but that’s not my call to make. On my last few major lists like this for YA Interrobang, I pulled any books I knew were problematic, but I hesitate to do that with this one, simply because neurodiversity in itself is incredibly diverse. Take, for example, the way that anxiety manifests itself varies from person to person.

Some experiences will feel true to some readers, but those same experiences could be triggering for others. I don’t want to deny anyone the chance to find themselves in the pages. Before picking up any of these books, please look at reviews, ask friends, make sure that what’s in these pages won’t harm you. I can’t tell you what won’t work for you, what will hurt you, and I can’t vet all of these books. Please, please be careful.

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma
Publisher: Dutton Books
Release date: March 21 2013
Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are seventeen and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? Through Lauren’s search for clues, things begin to unravel, and when a brush with death lands Lauren in the hospital, a shocking truth changes everything.

Border Crossing by Jessica Lee Anderson
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Release date: October 27 2009
The mixed-race son of apple pickers, Manz lives with his hard-drinking mother and her truck-driver boyfriend in the hardscrabble world of dusty Rockhill, Texas. Forced to take a summer job rebuilding fence of a cattle ranch, Manz works alongside his friend Jed and meets a girl named Vanessa — but even among his friends, Manz suffers from an uncontrollable paranoia. As the summer wears on, Manz becomes convinced that “Operation Wetback,” a brutal postwar relocation program, is being put back into effect. As the voices in his head grow louder and more insistent, Manz struggles to negotiate the difficulties of adolescence, the perils of an oppressed environment, and the terror of losing his grip on reality.

Calvin by Marine Leavitt
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Books for Young Readers
Release date: November 17 2015
As a child, Calvin felt an affinity with the comic book character from Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. He was born on the day the last strip was published; his grandpa left a stuffed tiger named Hobbes in his crib; and he even had a best friend named Susie. Then Calvin’s mom washed Hobbes to death, Susie grew up beautiful and stopped talking to him, and Calvin pretty much forgot about the strip—until now. Now he is seventeen years old and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Hobbes is back, as a delusion, and Calvin can’t control him. Calvin decides that Watterson is the key to everything—if he would just make one more comic strip, but without Hobbes, Calvin would be cured. Calvin and Susie (is she real?) and Hobbes (he can’t be real, can he?) set out on a dangerous trek across frozen Lake Erie to track down Watterson.

Cameron and the Girls by Edward Averett
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release date: April 1, 2013
Fourteen-year-old Cameron Galloway of Lexington, Washington, understands that he has schizophreniform disorder and needs to take pills to quiet the voices in his head. But he likes the voices, especially the gentle, encouraging voice of The Girl. Conflicted, he turns to his friend Nina Savage, who is clinically depressed and can relate to his horror of the numbing effects of medication. They make a pact to ditch the pills. At first they feel triumphant, but soon Cameron’s untreated mind goes haywire—to disastrous effect.

Challenger Deep by Neal Schusterman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: April 21,2015
Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench. Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior. Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence, to document the journey with images. Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head. Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny. Caden Bosch is torn.

The Form of Things Unknown by Robin Bridges
Publisher: Kensington
Release date: August 30 2016
Natalie Roman isn’t much for the spotlight. But performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a stately old theatre in Savannah, Georgia, beats sitting alone replaying mistakes made in Athens. Fairy queens and magic on stage, maybe a few scary stories backstage. And no one in the cast knows her backstory. Except for Lucas—he was in the psych ward, too. He won’t even meet her eye. But Nat doesn’t need him. She’s making friends with girls, girls who like horror movies and Ouija boards, who can hide their liquor in Coke bottles and laugh at the theater’s ghosts. Natalie can keep up. She can adapt. And if she skips her meds once or twice so they don’t interfere with her partying, it won’t be a problem. She just needs to keep her wits about her.

Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Release date: September 4 2012
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.

I Never Promised You a Garden by Hannah Green and Joanne Greenberg
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston
Release date: 1964
Enveloped in the dark inner kingdom of her schizophrenia, sixteen-year-old Deborah is haunted by private tormentors that isolate her from the outside world. With the reluctant and fearful consent of her parents, she enters a mental hospital where she will spend the next three years battling to regain her sanity with the help of a gifted psychiatrist. As Deborah struggles toward the possibility of the “normal” life she and her family hope for, the reader is inexorably drawn into her private suffering and deep determination to confront her demons.

Inside Out by Terry Trueman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: August 1 2003
Zach Wahhsted is used to hearing these brutal words. But today he isn’t the only one in danger of dying. A busy coffee shop — a robbery gone wrong. Two gunmen, nine hostages, flashing lights, itchy trigger fingers. And Zach, a seemingly ordinary teenager, is caught in the middle of the mayhem. But nobody realizes that Zach — who has no gun and no knife — has a mind more dangerous than any weapon.

King of the Pygmies by Johnathon Scott Fuqua
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: October 11 2005
Havre-de-Grace, Maryland isn’t the kind of place where miracles happen. That’s why when fifteen-year-old Penn starts to hear voices, he is terrified. These aren’t just any voices, though – they are the thoughts of people close to him. He can hear his parents’ unspoken gripes with each other. He can hear his retarded brother’s silent anxieties. He can hear his neighbor’s descent into quiet desperation. And he can hear his girlfriend’s tentative feelings of tenderness. His momma wants him to go to a therapist to get treated for schizophrenia, but his similarly gifted Uncle Hewitt, a former police chief turned town drunk, tells him the truth: Penn’s ability to hear other people’s thoughts and take away their pain doesn’t make him sick. It makes him special.

Life is But a Dream by Brian James
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release date: March 27 2012
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.

Lowboy by John Wray
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Release date: March 3 2009
Early one morning in New York City, Will Heller, a sixteen-year old paranoid schizophrenic, gets on an uptown B train alone. Like most people he knows, Will believes the world is being destroyed by climate change; unlike most people, he’s convinced he can do something about it. Unknown to his doctors, unknown to the police—unknown even to Violet Heller, his devoted mother—Will alone holds the key to the planet’s salvation. To cool down the world, he has to cool down his own overheating body: to cool down his body, he has to find one willing girl. And he already has someone in mind.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release date: May 19,2015
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.

Me, Myself, and Ike by K.L. Denman
Publisher: Orca Books
Release date: October 1 2009
After watching a TV program about Otzi, a 5,000-year-old Ice Man, Kit’s friend Ike becomes convinced that Kit’s destiny is to become the next ice man–a source of information for future generations. Together they obtain artifacts they think will accurately reflect life in the early twenty-first century and plan their journey to a nearby mountain. Kit gets tattoos similar to Otzi’s, writes a manifesto and tries to come to terms with making the ultimate sacrifice. As he grows more and more agitated and isolated, his family and friends suspect that something is terribly wrong, but before they can discover the true severity of the situation, Kit and Ike set off on what could be their last journey.

Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release date: December 9 2008
Sixteen-year-old Erin Misrahe just wants to be like everyone else in her new school. But Erin has more to worry about than passing AP Chemistry or making friends. In times of stress, she has always been overcome by her alter ego, Shevaun, whose violent behavior wreaks havoc on those around her. Erin can never remember anything about these episodes, and she’s grateful to have been spared them for a while. But when a protective friend comes back into Erin’s life, he insists that Shevaun is a vampire who actually exists apart from Erin. Shevaun has dangerous allies, like the handsome witch Adjila’ and they’re determined to sever Shevaun’s connection to Erin once and for all

Schizo by Nic Sheff
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release date: September 30 2014
Miles is the ultimate unreliable narrator — a teen recovering from a schizophrenic breakdown who believes he is getting better . . . when in reality he is growing worse. Driven to the point of obsession to find his missing younger brother, Teddy, and wrapped up in a romance that may or may not be the real thing, Miles is forever chasing shadows. As Miles feels his world closing around him, he struggles to keep it open, but what you think you know about his world is actually a blur of gray, and the sharp focus of reality proves startling.

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About Author

Julie Daly

Julie Daly is sometimes known as Julianne. A recent college grad, when not job hunting, Julie is watching Netflix, talking about YA on twitter, or trying to make her cats play. In 2009, Julie joined a group blog called Bloggers[Heart]Books and her obsession with all things YA has grown exponentially. Though she no longer blogs, she did create #quietYA and is a cofounder of Blogbound Con. Julie has also interned at several publishers and sometimes plays bookseller. Follow her on Twitter at @DailyJulianne.

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