Freak, Sunshine, and Drip are best friends in high school. They also happen to be in the SED (severely emotionally disturbed) class. Jason – Freak – is schizophrenic, plagued by voices he names Bastard and Whiner; he also has the “no-names” that play out as a kind of chorus. Drip (Derrick) has ADHD. Sunshine (her real name) is a selective mute, but trusts Jason and Derrick enough to speak to them. Bullied by school antagonist Roland, they stick together and protect each other. One day, when Sunshine gets off at her bus stop, she disappears; Jason and Derrick are two of the suspects when the authorities get involved, and Jason seems to know more than he’s letting on – or is it just the voices again?
Critical Evaluation: Freaks Like Us gives the reader a suspense story featuring an interesting group of characters – a group of severely disturbed high school kids. The whole point of the mystery relies on their being unreliable narrators, because the reader is not quite sure, through most of the book, what is real and what may or may not be. Throw in a federal agent who is all too willing to believe that the “freaks” are the easy culprits, and you have a page-turning mystery. Told in the first person from Jason’s point of view, the reader is hit with all of the activity happening in Jason’s head – the voices, the flashbacks, and the frustration of having concrete memories just out of reach plaguing him.
The characters’ backgrounds are well-drawn, with flashbacks and memories revealing more to the reader as the book goes along. Agent Mercer is one of the more interesting characters in the book – he is initially drawn as the cop you want to hate, but he’s revealed to be more than a one-dimensional bad cop.
Reviews: Releasing in August, no reviews yet.
Awards: No awards yet.
Reader’s Annotation: One of Jason’s best friends has disappeared, but does he have anything to do with it?
Author Information: Susan Vaught writes realistic teen fiction; she’s dealt with obesity, sexting, and attempted suicide. Her author website offers information about the author, her books, and interviews. She also writes about things that interest her, like her current love of the book and HBO series, Game of Thrones.
Genre: Mystery/Suspense. Subgenre: Mental Illness, Bullying.
Booktalking Ideas: Would you consider Jason an unreliable narrator because of his schizophrenia? Do you agree with Jason’s assessment that people don’t listen to “alphabets” – kids with diseases spelled out in initials, like ADD/ADHD, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), and SCZI (schizophrenic)? Do you think Jason’s being an “alphabet” made him an easy target not just for school bullies but for the FBI? How so?
Reading Level/Interest Age: 13+
Challenge Issues/Defense: Insinuation of sexual activity, portrayals of mental illness. Defense: This is a realistic portrayal of a group of mentally ill teens and the abuse they can endure at the hands of their peers, the law, and even their own families. The narrator’s schizophrenia prevents him from understanding the events as they unfold, confusing him further. This is a look readers rarely get to see at a population that may be sharing a school building with them; with some understanding may come acceptance and tolerance.
Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?
The story’s premise and characters interested me. Freaks Like Us has brought fiction about the mentally ill a long way from Flowers for Algernon and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden; these are books for a new generation of teen readers who have been exposed to special education on a new level, a level previous generations may not have encountered as teens.