December 29, 2016

Thursday Review: HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR by John Corey Whaley

Synopsis: It might not be easy to picture a story that takes heavy stuff—mental illness, coming out—and weaves them into an often-hilarious, totally recognizable story of friendship and love. Highly Illogical Behavior (which takes place in, of all conceivable locations, UPLAND, which is very close to where I lived as a child) uses the alternating viewpoints of Solomon Reed—who is agoraphobic and hasn't left his house in three years, ever since one fateful day in eighth grade—and Lisa Praytor, who seems to be his polar opposite in just about every single way. Lisa is extroverted, ambitious, and she just happens to want to get into the second-best psychology program in the country.

Through happenstance, Sol's situation falls across Lisa's radar, and she gets a possibly brilliant, audacious, and definitely ethically questionable idea: she will make Sol her project. She'll fix his agoraphobia. And then she'll write about it in her application essay, thus demonstrating her prodigious psychological talents. Unsurprisingly, neither her best friend Janis nor her boyfriend Clark think this is such a good plan, but that doesn't stop Lisa.

Of course, as she gets to know Sol, and over time becomes his friend, things get a lot more complicated than she anticipated. This is, after all, someone's LIFE, someone's mental well-being. And because she, too, has grown to care very much about Sol, her straight-out USING him to pad her college application becomes even more painful to witness, more and more thorny and entangled and questionable. And yet it's undeniable: Sol is changing. Does the end justify the means? Is their friendship a true one? And can the reader finish this story without wanting to SLAP Lisa across the face just one time? (I would guess, no.)

Observations: This book does so much to show that panic and anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia, are not what defines a person or their character. It's a critical point that those of us who suffer from this type of mental issue will recognize: the need to truly understand and accept that you are not your illness. Getting that message across to those readers who may be just starting to realize they have a real issue? And setting them on the path to understanding and accepting themselves? It could be lifesaving.

The message comes across so clearly in part, I think, because of how recognizable these characters are—it's easy to see and KNOW the ambitious, obsessively college-bound, driven Lisa Praytor. Sol is just as familiar, especially to anyone who has ever experienced social anxiety on any level, but also as a human being with desires and hopes and interests of his own. The characters are all rounded and complex, and it's refreshing to see that Sol—the one with the mental issues—is the one with the MOST functional and loving family. His parents and his grandmother support him and love him unconditionally, and they aren't relegated to bit parts, either.

It drives home the point that mental illness is not a decision that you can simply will yourself out of; that sufferers should not face blame for their condition; and that there is a biological component, meaning that you can have a good life and a happy family but still suffer from a mental illness—Sol's home life and family circumstances are not at fault for his situation.

Conclusion: Though a few aspects of the story stretched credibility—mostly, it seemed, to keep with the book's sense of humor and overall madcap kind of tone—I ended up loving these annoying, sweet, and ultimately very real characters.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR by John Corey Whaley at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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