Oct 262012

Title: Freaks Like Us
Author: Susan Vaught
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication date: January 19, 2012
Pages: 240
Source: Library

Freaks Like Us

From Goodreads:
When Jason Milwaukee’s best friend Sunshine vanishes, Jason knows that something is terribly wrong, but solving her disappearance will require pushing through all the voices in his head and then getting the world to listen to him. His schizophrenia is stopping him from remembering the events leading up to her disappearance, and often he discounts his own memories, and his own impressions. But his deep knowledge that he would never hurt his friend, plus the faith of his parents and a few others in the town bring him to the point of solving the mystery. In the end, it’s Sunshine’s own love for Jason (Freak) that persuades him of his own strength and goodness. By turns brilliantly witty and searingly honest, Susan Vaught’s newest novel is a laugh-out-loud, tear-jerking, coming-of-age story.


Freaks Like Us deals with three very distinct mental disorders. Jason, aka Freak, is schizophrenic; Derrick, aka Drip, has ADHD; and Sunshine is selectively mute. Sunshine disappears after school one day and the entire story revolves around Jason and Drip trying to find her. Since Jason is schizophrenic, this proves to be even more difficult for him to handle as he has to deal with constant voices inside his head telling him conflicting messages about himself. I think we all have that inner critic in ourselves, but the voices Freak hears take this to a totally different level. You can’t help but feel so bad for him yet amazed at the same time that he’s able to deal with such a horrible disease with as much grace and self-awareness as he does.

I think one of the most powerful aspects of the story is the friendship between Freak, Drip, and Sunshine. You couldn’t find three people more different from each other, yet their illnesses, or “alphabets,” bring them together to form an unbreakable bond. No one else can understand what alphabets go through except for other alphabets, even the parents, and it’s both sad and heartwarming to see this bond between the three friends.

I really enjoy books that deal with mental disorders for a variety of reasons. First of all, I think there is a major stigma with mental illness and society is quick to label people “crazy” or “retarded” or some other inappropriate and hurtful name when they talk about these diseases. Books about these illnesses help defy that way of thinking and bring the issues to the forefront. We never, ever say anything hurtful about people battling cancer or heart disease, but a person with a mental illness must “have a screw loose” or “they must come from a crazy, unstable family.” Why is this? Why do we treat mental illness so differently than physical illnesses?

Perhaps I’m a bit more sensitive to this as I’ve experienced mental disease in personal ways. My stepmom was a foster parent before she married my dad, and I learned about autism and bi-polar disorder from kids she was fostering while she and my dad were dating. They ended up adopting the bi-polar child, who is now my half-brother and continues to battle the disorder. I’ve also had family members and friends battle depression, social anxiety disorder, and generalized panic disorder. It’s hurtful to hear people speak negatively about these illnesses because people truly can’t control it – it’s not something people choose to have or want to have. And yet, there is still this idea that these people are just “weird” and “crazy.” It’s honestly something I think about quite often and still wonder why mental illness is portrayed the way it is.

Freaks Like Us is a very quick yet powerful read that will leave you asking yourself important questions about how you perceive mental illness and what you can do to help eliminate the stigma.

*Big thanks to Allison at Good Books & Good Wine for reviewing this book and making me want to read it! If any of you have recommendations for other books about mental illness, either young adult or adult, please leave me a comment and let me know.

  11 Responses to “Book review: Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught”

  1. I often wonder the same things about mental illnesses.. why does society treat it as something negative? I wish there were more sympathetic people in this world like you. We’d learn so much more if we turned our judgements off and opened our hearts. This book sounds powerful, yet in a subtle way. I think these are the best kinds of stories. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  2. I love you so much for putting yourself out there in this review. You are so right that mental illnesses do have an stigma attached to them, and I think it’s really important for people to be eduated through fiction about how different people live and go about their lives. My mom is an assistant teacher at my old high school and she basically deals with kids with different kinds of disorders every day. I don’t know how she does it really. But she’s always been very patient, and I’m not sure if put in the same position I could be the same. (I could only hope.) One of our good family friends also has a son with a mental disorder and he recently had a breakdown and it was very emotional to hear about. I’ve know him since he was a little kid, and it’s hard to believe that same kid is almost 22 now and maybe not be able to hold a job or ever live on his own. It adds a lot of pressure and a whole new layer of responsibility for the family, that’s for sure. Longest comment ever. Thanks for sharing this story. I’m going to add it to my TBR list. xo
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  3. LOVED this review! And now I’m super interested in this book whereas I didn’t really know about it before. Just saw it in passing.I agree with so much of what you said about mental illness and how it gets treated. I remember after my mom passed away my friends (who literally live these happy lives in bubbles where nothing REALLY bad ever happens to them..at least at that point) and that they treated me like such SHIT because I was truly, truly depressed. They made me feel crazy..like it wasn’t ok to be feeling the way I did. Crazier than I already FELT. They couldn’t understand and it hurt when I’d find out they said things like “Ugh I’m so sick of dealing with her being so down all the time” or “What is wrong with her??” …it made me feel worse about something I tried to “get over”…apparently what they wanted me to do. HA and when I was having panic attacks daily..yeah…they just thought I was being dramatic. I’m sorry that every minute of every day I was panicking because everything was out of control and I couldn’t fathom a world where my mom didn’t exist and that I was thinking about how I was going to die of something horrible or that everyone else was going to die.

    WOW sorry for that novel but everything you brought up really gets to me about how people are about this stuff. People battle every day just to feel “ok” and it doesn’t help that people make you feel crazier.

    Thankfully things are much better for me but I think it’s given me a lot more empathy for people dealing with mental illness on any scale. I think one thing about depression and anxiety, at least in my experience, is that people SO overuse the words. “I’m so depressed” when they mean sad or upset or having a case of the blues. And gosh doesn’t it feel like everyone is on anti-anxiety meds? Obviously there are those who do need them and truly have anxiety issues but I do wonder if people just brush it off because everyone seems “depressed” and “anxious” and they think that the truly depressed and anxious people are just being too dramatic because of what THEY perceive depression and anxiety to feel like. Does that make sense? lol I don’t know if it came out the way I wanted.
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  4. Great review. I’m really interested in this one. I’ve liked some of Vaught’s other books.

  5. I absolutely LOVE your review. It makes me want to read the book even more than I already did, and I can’t wait until I get the opportunity to. I agree with what you had to say about mental illnesses as well – I don’t think it’s fair that we label people as crazy or nuts or the like when these conditions are actually quite serious, and deserve to be treated with more care and concern.
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  6. You know, you’re right. I can’t really think of any books that treat mental illness with respect and compassion. In fact, most of the examples of mental illness I can think of are actually villains! Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes you read about very damaged characters, who clearly are dealing with mental trauma as best they can, but it’s rare for a book to say so-and-so is actually suffering from depression or obsession or bipolarity. I can’t really think of many recs. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac maybe. (The protagonist has amnesia, of course, I realize that’s not the same thing, but there’s also another character with problems.) And I just reviewed Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey; it’s fantasy, but all of her characters have had such hard lives and their obviously trying (and in many cases failing) to overcome their pasts.
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  7. [...] from Fiction Folio reviewed Freaks Like Us — a book that wasn’t on my radar but now is thanks to her [...]

  8. I am SO glad that you enjoyed Freaks Like Us! Absolutely LOVE your review! “Why do we treat mental illness so differently than physical illnesses?” THIS. It should not be this way at all. Mental illness are just as important as physical illnesses and should not be treated as a problem or an offense. They should be treated with compassion and respect. There should NOT be a stigma attached to them.

  9. Tara, this is such a deep and insightful review. Between you and Allison, I feel desperate to read Freaks Like Us. Especially because it really does take on the stigma of mental illness which is kind of awful — that there is a stigma around mental illness, I mean.

    I love that you have empathy for people who have mental disorders, because so many people really do brush it off like the person has a choice in the matter. I think books like Freaks Like Us are important for that empathy building.
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  10. Oooh, this one sounds really great. I do like books that involve disorders, too. Not because I’ve had close friends/family members experience them but because I find their stories so interesting and it makes me wonder what they go through. Some great books I’ve read (and really loved) were Marcelo in the Real World and The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time.
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  11. [...] Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught. Mental illness is an issue that should be brought to the forefront more in the media and this book hits on all levels. [...]

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