I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers on April 18th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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A laugh-out-loud, bittersweet debut full of wit, wisdom, heart, and a hilarious, unforgettable heroine.
When you’re a hypochondriac, there are a million different things that could be wrong with you, but for Izzy, focusing on what could be wrong might be keeping her from dealing with what’s really wrong.
I almost raised my hand, but what would I say? “Mr. Bayer, may I please be excused? I’m not totally positive, but I think I might have cancer.” No way. Then everyone at school would know, and they would treat me differently, and I would be known as “Izzy, that poor girl who diagnosed herself with breast cancer during biology.”
But Izzy’s sense of humor can only get her so far when suddenly her best friend appears to have undergone a personality transplant, her mother’s health takes a turn for the worse, and her beautiful maybe-boyfriend is going all hot and cold. Izzy thinks she’s preparing for the worst-case scenario, but when the worst-case scenario actually hits, it’s a different story altogether—and there’s no tidy list of symptoms to help her through the insanity.
There are few books that I feel ever get the “teenage speak” right. There are even fewer that feature all those little awkward moments we’ve all dealt with in high school. Because let’s face it, sometimes being a teen is awesome, but other times, it completely sucks. Really, really hard. The Symptoms of My Insanity takes a few of those moments and presents them in such a relatable way where I could sit back and go, “Oh, it’s my teenage self all over again when I was socially awkward!” Then I realized, “Wait. I’m still socially awkward.”
Izzy has a lot going on her plate in Symptoms: her mother’s cancer seems to be coming back, a popular guy in school is suddenly showing interest in her, her best friend is acting strangely and she has to prepare her art portfolio. It’s a lot. And thank goodness for Raf’s humor, because without it this would be one sad novel. The thing with Izzy is that she gets so wrapped up in everything that’s going on, she tends to glaze over or ignore the finer details. It’s her biggest flaw in the story and ends up almost costing her a friendship. At times this frustrated me because I really thought Blake’s arc was very obvious and I really needed her to wake up. She was dangerously tip-toing into “shakable heroine” territory.
But despite her flaws, I don’t really blame her for it. She’s a very relatable girl that reminds me of myself. Particularly, her experience shopping for a bra had my name all over it. Shopping for a bra is just one of those things that can make even the most confident woman, young or old, feel insecure. From dressing room lighting to the oversized mirrors that seem to emphasize everything, it can be a… humbling experience. But when you’re in high school, still going through puberty, perhaps even faster, and you’re more well-endowed than the others, it’s even more stressful. Those little awkward moments were captured very well in Symptoms and I couldn’t help but feel for Izzy.
Then the novel wore on and I was still really enjoying it even with the predictability here and there. But then something happened to really make me rage a little and bring down from rating from 4 stars to 2.5. If you are curious as to what it is click the spoiler, but be warned: It does spoil the plot twist (but honestly, the plot twist seemed very obvious from the beginning, so whatevs) and the ending of the book. I don’t usually add this level of spoiler-age to my reviews, but I really need to get this off my chest. So feel free to skip it.View Spoiler »Okay, so a little pretense: Remember when I mentioned the awkward bra shopping moments? Well, Izzy is a DD (She considers this huge, along with Victoria’s Secret, I guess. Fun fact: the average bust size for women these days is between E-F. An F, PEOPLE! GAH!) and is picked on by the boys in her school because of this. Now–a bit of sharing here–I was the same size as Izzy and I remember going through the same utter bullshit that was portrayed in the book. Boys learn early to shame a woman’s body and yet demand it all the same for their personal enjoyment. To this extent, I do think this was realistic of Symptoms.
It wasn’t much of a surprise what Blake’s plans were for Izzy, and I really think Raf did capture some of the stupidity of high school life. Blake tries to get closer and closer to Izzy during the novel for the sole purpose of fulfilling a dare. Izzy is so caught up with the fact that he is actually interested in her, that she ignores her instincts to stop his physical advances. Izzy, having being inexperienced when it comes to boys as a lot of teen girls her age may be, only briefly questions if his attempts are normal and finally, he proves successful when he gets her alone, pulls her sweater over her face, holds her down as he fondles her and takes a picture of her breast. Then he let’s her up and tries to apologize for the “awkward moment”, saying how he didn’t hear her telling him to get off her or feel her struggling and pushing against him. Riiiiight.
You know where this is going. The photo goes viral and Blake tries to non-apologize about the incident, saying he’s sorry it got out, his friends sent it around, he’s such and asshole (well, he got *one* of those right). Then the douche has the nerve to try and fix it by suggesting spreading a rumor about, you guessed it… some other girl. Because turning himself in couldn’t possibly be an acceptable alternative, but throwing another girl under the bus is.
Then, school threatens to cancel their dance if the perpetrator, AKA the victim, doesn’t turn herself in. Alright, I can understand the school not knowing that a boy could be on the other end of that photo, but they didn’t even consider any other possibilities. Because logically, of course, a girl would take a photo of her boob and send it to everyone in her school and neighboring ones. Of course she acted alone. And no, she couldn’t POSSIBLY be the VICTIM of sexual harassment and bullying!
But believe it or not, I was willing to forgive that. Because maybe Raf was trying to portray a very real issue that plagues our society to open up discussion. That’s what was going through my mind at the time, but that hope quickly died when Izzy decided to turn herself in so that the rest of the school wouldn’t be punished. *deep breathes* But maybe then, once Izzy explained what happened, the adults would see what happened was NOT her fault and instead go after the boys. Nope, because all the girls in the school decided to turn themselves in at the same time to protect her identity. Which, for the record, I think was a great show of girl empowerment. But in the end, I think they undermined that when they told Izzy that coming forward wasn’t worth it.
“I just don’t think you admitting to being Boobgirl would make anything better. Why should you do that? Don’t do it. I’m sure they won’t cancel the dance, and if they do, oh well. It’s not your fault. It’s Blake’s fault. And you shouldn’t feel guilty. Right? Jenna, you agree, right? Will you please help me convince Izzy not to go to Preston tomorrow? It’s just so not worth it!”
That display of girl power felt more like the bandaid over the gunshot wound when no one thought turning in that group of boys was any good. Not after one girl was tricked into having sex and later mocked for. Or after another girl was asked to perform oral sex in the school’s bathroom, yet when she refused, a rumor was spread by the boys anyway as payback. And god knows what else they did to other girls. They treated those girls as conquests, something that stood in the way of their goal of making the football team.
“So, it turns out he just had some bet going, some game he was playing with his friends, like sleeping with girls, getting them to do stuff–like this list–checkin girls off list like they’re things that you need to pick up at the store.”
Yes, I completely see how “no good” would come of exposing those little shits. >_> Please believe me when I say I loved the idea of the entire female student body sticking up for another instead of calling her a slut. And yes, they were trying to convince her not to turn herself in for the sake of her reputation and because they knew SHE wasn’t at fault. But they completely missed the point. Coming forward is about making sure those responsible deal with the repercussions of their actions. It ensures that the victim does not deal with self-inflicted blame while culprits are not brought to justice. And most importantly, it brings awareness to a community in the hopes that those responsible are disciplined and helps protect future girls from falling prey to things like this.
Which begs the question: Where was all this girl power before the incident took place. It seemed everyone knew what that group was capable of, but no one thought to warn Izzy. They kept hinting at it over the course of the novel, but it was conveniently left out just so the reader could have a weird “ah-ha!” moment during the plot twist that was just about as subtle as a rocket launcher going off in a library.
The only resolution in the end is Izzy feeling sorry for Blake and how lonely he looks because of his decisions and the people he chose to surround himself with – there is a problem. That group of boys dealt with no consequences for their actions (Blake does feel guilty, but he didn’t have nearly enough to ever come forward. He was protecting his future football career, of course.) and sat in a corner high-fiving each other’s dicks over their conquests.
I would have been okay if the story ended without the boys getting caught IF it hadn’t been for the mentality that there was no point in Izzy coming forward. I am still fuming over the more recent rape cases in the news, where very little justice was handed out, where people were more concerned about the criminal’s future, how victims were constantly made to feel responsible for the crime and slut-shamed by adults who should have been trying to protect them, where a girl committed suicide years after she was raped and yet the police are STILL dragging their asses on convicting the boys despite digital evidence. So when I see the girls in this book claiming “it’s not worth it” speaking up, it sends me into a rage of epic proportions. « Hide Spoiler
Other than my biggest issue hidden in the spoiler, there was also slut shaming from Izzy’s mom and friend. BUT Izzy does correct her mother on that in the end. This didn’t exactly thrill me since I do believe her mother’s inability to accept her daughter’s changing body directly impacted Izzy’s self-esteem. The good thing is, by the end, Izzy does show a good amount of growth, grows a backbone and learns to be proud of herself.
Another thing that I wasn’t sold on was her best friend Jenna. Jenna knew Izzy had a lot to deal with as far as her art portfolio and her mother’s illness, but still proceeded to demand Izzy’s time to further her own ventures. The really sucky part is that Jenna started distancing herself from Izzy after she agreed to help her. I get that friends grow apart and that Raf was trying to show that correlation, but for me it felt way too sudden and wasn’t very gradual to be believable.
Overall, Symptoms of My Insanity is an entertaining read. Raf tackles a lot of different challenges teen girls face with a comical edge. Unfortunately, the last 3rd of the novel did not measure up to my expectations and caused me extreme disappointment.
ARC was provided by the publisher for an honest review. No monies or gifts were exchanged.