24 September 2012

Title: Freaks Like Us
Author: Susan Vaught
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's, 240 Pages (September 4th, 2012)
Add to: Goodreads

Synopsis: When Jason Milwaukee’s best friend, Sunshine, disappears from the face of the earth, the whole town, including Jason, starts searching for her. But the insistent voices in Jason’s head won’t let him get to the heart of the mystery—he’s schizophrenic, and the voices make it hard to know what is real and what is not. As the chase becomes more panicked, Jason’s meds start wearing off, and he is looking more and more guilty. But of what, exactly?

Both brilliantly witty and intensely honest, this poignant novel draws upon the author’s many years as an adolescent psychologist, but it’s Vaught’s powerful voice and expertly crafted mystery that will keep the pages turning.

Guest Post:

Can you share with us about writing a character with mental illness and your research for Freaks Like Us?

The journey to telling Jason’s story in Freaks Like Us was a long one—a lot longer than most of the books I write. I started wanting to write a tale through the eyes of a main character with schizophrenia a long time ago—2005, maybe? My problem was, I couldn’t find the right personality for the character, or the right style of story-telling to make such a difficult world accessible to readers. Jason’s mental illness makes it hard for him to relate to the world, and hard for the world to relate to him. I knew that if I wasn’t careful, the problems that come with his illness could push people away from the story instead of drawing them in and helping them to understand his struggles.

Over the years, I went back to the first chapter over and over again, but I couldn’t get the character “talking.” Late one afternoon, I started imagining what it might be like to have to sit in class, struggling with hallucinations and troubling thoughts—and Jason finally, finally started to talk to me. It was difficult staying in his head, writing through his experiences, especially as he became more distressed, more stressed, and ultimately, more acutely ill, but I did my best to stay true to what I know about this disease. It was also important to me that Jason be a person first, that his schizophrenia be a piece of him and his life, but not all of it.

As for the research portion, I earned my doctorate in clinical psychology and mental retardation research from Vanderbilt University in 1991. For the last two decades I have worked primarily with people who have brain injuries, developmental disabilities, severe mental illness—or some combination of those problems. Following people over time has allowed me to watch the onset and evolution of schizophrenia at different ages. I have been privileged to speak to and assist many teens and adults who struggle with these symptoms,  and all of the life problems the disease creates.

Writing Freaks Like Us was both exciting and humbling, and Jason and his friends are still clattering around in my heart and mind. I hope readers will enjoy them and their story.

Susan, thanks for visiting today and for talking to us about writing a character with mental illness. It's fascinating to me getting a chance to hear a bit about your process and your research.

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