Review: Words On Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton (arc)

words on bathroom walls julia walton

Title: Words On Bathroom Walls  
Author: Julia Walton  
Series: Stand-alone  
Genre: Contemporary, Mental Health, YA  
Publication date: July 4, 2017 
Rating: ★★★★ 

<< ARC received through NetGalley >>

Adam has just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He sees and hears people who aren’t there: Rebecca, a beautiful girl who understands him; the Mob Boss, who harasses him; and Jason, the naked guy who’s unfailingly polite. It should be easy to separate the real from the not real, but Adam can't. Still, there’s hope. As Adam starts fresh at a new school, he begins a drug trial that helps him ignore his visions. Suddenly everything seems possible, even love. When he meets Maya, a fiercely intelligent girl, he desperately wants to be the great guy that she thinks he is. But then the miracle drug begins to fail, and Adam will do anything to keep Maya from discovering his secret.

Real is subjective. There are a lot of things that aren’t actually real to everyone. Pain, for example. It’s only real to the one experiencing it. Everyone else has to take your word for it. 

I was really interested in reading this book because I came in contact with a seven-year-old child recently diagnosed with schizophrenia at work. There had always been symptoms, but as the child grew older those symptoms became much more intense. He was often lost in his own mind and acted out in ways that didn’t make sense to those around him. The few times I had to work closely with him were extremely challenging because it pained me to realize how little I understood this kid. How unable I was to help him. Schizophrenia is something I hardly know anything about. I wanted this book to help me understand a little better. 

It doesn’t really matter that no one else can see what I see. That doesn’t make my experience any less real. 

So meet Adam. Adam is schizophrenic. In his case this means he hears voices in his head. Not the good kind. Not the kind of voices Harry Potter heard in his second year and that turned out to be real. Adam’s voices are never real, no matter how much he sometimes believes they are. Things went really bad at his last school when people found out. That’s why he’s determined to keep everyone at his new school in the dark. He volunteers to try an experimental drug called ToZaPrex and for a while he’s able to keep things under control. He still hallucinates, but the drugs at least help him tell fiction from reality. We learn Adam’s story as he writes it to the therapist he refuses to talk to. After all:

Once words tumble out of your mouth, there’s no room for editing. It’s out there.

I loved Adam. There was just something about his voice that drew me in the minute I met him. He had a good sense of humour and was able to find irony in difficult situations. Most of all I appreciated his inner struggle, because it was so authentically done. I’m not entirely sure if the hallucinations were accurate, but the many struggles that come with suffering from mental illness were brought adequately and truthfully. It especially captured the isolation well. How having an illness no one really understands makes people afraid and wary. How prejudice unfortunately beats common sense too often. Adam’s thoughts on how hard it can get, dealing with mental illness, rang true. 

I also really appreciated that Adam was in a fully functional relationship with this amazing girl Maya and that none of that miraculously cured him from his schizophrenia. Love does not conquer all, but it does help to know you’re not in it alone. The relationship was healthy and very realistically portrayed. 

I get it now. It's hard to let someone find you in all the dark and twisty places inside, but eventually, you have to hope that they do, because that's the beginning of everything. 

I can say the same about Adam’s relationship with his mother and stepfather. Both of them were well-developed characters and definitely not your typical caricature (step)parents. Their relationship was not always easy, as no relationship ever is, but I thought the way he both fought and connected with his parents (especially his stepfather) was beautiful. 

I liked this book a lot. The writing is very engaging. The words flow naturally and it’s almost as if Adam is directly talking to you. Reading books about people with mental illnesses can be tough and ‘dark’ sometimes, but this book finds the perfect balance between serious matter and light-heartedness. Would definitely recommend! 

Most people are afraid of themselves, Adam. 
They carry that fear everywhere hoping no one will notice.
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