CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 21. . . .February 3, 2012
Schizo. (Side Streets).
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2011.
150 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55277-871-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55277-872-2 (hc.).
Grades 9-12 / Ages 12-17.
Review by Mark Mueller.
I can only think about the impact my mother on my life right now. I make up a report in my head. Point one, I think, picking up my bass and throwing on the headphones before playing: my mom is mentally ill. Point two, I think, as I begin to play the bass line from D.O.A.'s 'Class War': she doesn't want me or Dustin to be anywhere but home – or school, in Dustin's case – where she knows we're safe. Point three: I'm worried I might start counting one day. Conclusion: I need to escape. I need some normality.
Daniel (or "Dan") is a Calgary teen who doesn't ask for much. He wants to spend time with his friends and play his bass guitar. He wants to ask a girl out. He even wants to go to school and study. When his mother's schizophrenia turns for the worse after she stops taking her pills, his world falls apart as he tries to keep his family together.
The first chapter of Kim Firmston's novel Schizo is intense and sets the tone and pattern for the rest of the book. Dan comes home after school and finds his mother scrawling and counting numbers in a state of paranoia. Although he wants to flee to a local coffee bar until his mother's paranoid state passes, he's obligated to stay and watch out for his family. He needs to protect his younger brother, Dustin, and, most importantly, ensure that his mother takes her medicine. He gets very little sleep that night because of his mother's loud outbursts and is late for school the following day.
Schizo is an honest depiction of a young teen trying to keep his life together as he attempts to balance two conflicting worlds. His grades and attendance record at school are put in jeopardy because of his constant lack of sleep. His desire to join a rock band with a girl that he likes is hindered because of his responsibilities at home. Dan is constantly picked on by one of the school jocks, Chain Gupta, because of Dan's mother's behavior. When his mother is committed to a hospital at the end of the book after an explosive encounter with the Gupta family, the reader may feel a sense of relief that Dan is finally able to attain some kind of stability in his life.
Kim Firmston has crafted that a YA novel that has a simple plot and lots of depth. She brings up many rich and complex themes, such as the tension between home and school life, which makes this book a worthwhile read. The characters in this book have depth, and there are no heroes or martyrs. Firmston's depiction of mental illness and its effect on the community is vivid and uncompromising. High school teens who like books that have depth and grit will enjoy this book
Mark Mueller is the Education Librarian at Tyndale University College in Toronto, ON.
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