Thanks to Random House, we're pleased to take part in the book tour for Words on Bathroom Walls, a new contemporary YA novel by Julia Walton. Keep reading to check out our review! 

By Julia Walton
Published on July 4th 2017
Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher
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.

Words on Bathroom Walls is told via journal entries by Adam, a teenager recently diagnosed with schizophrenia. On one hand, the diagnosis helps because he can put a name to what he's been experiencing -- visions of people who aren't there, paranoid thoughts that aren't really his -- but on the other, now he has this label on him and he's afraid everyone's going to find out.

The book opens with Adam switching schools after he has an incident at his old school. He's on a new medication now, one that helps him better manage his symptoms. With the new medication, he's very self aware of what his symptoms are, and is developing the coping skills to deal with his hallucinations when he has them. He still refuses to talk to his therapist though, so instead he writes down his thoughts and responses to the therapist's questions, which is what we're reading.

I liked Adam as a character. His voice felt very natural and engaging, full of all of the regular fears and anxieties of teenagers, with the added complexity of mental health issues on top of that. He tries his hardest to appear neurotypical, because he doesn't want anyone to know his secret and be afraid of him. He puts up a bit of a "whatever, who cares" kind of attitude in his journal entries, so the times where he admits his fears or concerns, particularly in an entry that takes place at the same time of the real-world Sandy Hook shooting, feel even more shockingly vulnerable.

I enjoyed the supporting cast of characters and thought that they had surprising depth, particularly Adam's mom and step-dad. I wish we could have gotten a bit more around Ian, the rich kid bully who targets Adam, particularly his motivations, but overall I liked the world that the author created.

The romance with Maya is particularly sweet. She and Adam are a good fit for each other, and the story never turns into a "and then I was healed by the power of her love!" nonsense trope. I do admit to rolling my eyes at the passage about the first time Adam and Maya have sex, though -- it's not graphic but it's certainly unrealistic. (Obviously there is some sexual content in this book, but it's all handled sensitively and the characters make responsible choices, and nothing is described in great detail.)

The pacing of the book really worked for me -- once I got through the first few chapters, it was very quick reading, and the journal entry format makes it easy to read several chapters at a time and still have an easy stopping point, if you're not going to read the whole book in one go.

I can't speak to how much research the author did in regards to talking to people living with schizophrenia. The end notes talk a lot about work she did to understand treatment. Most of my knowledge of schizophrenia is from an academic standpoint, so while I can give you the DSM criteria for it, that's different than being intimately familiar with the way that symptoms manifest. I worry a bit that Walton's take on Adam's symptoms, actions, and self-awareness here seems a bit simplistic, or a bit too "Hollywood". I do know that I would be interested in reading this book from an own voices author, that is, written by someone who is schizophrenic. It could make for a more compelling, even harrowing, read, if the text felt just a bit more authentic.

Content notes: Some sexual content, brief discussion of the Sandy Hook shooting, self-harm, irreverent talk/making fun of religion, some mentions of suicide

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