Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book Review: Highly Illogical Behavior

I read loads of young adult fiction because I attempt to write young adult fiction. But my book club only rarely selects a young adult title (once a year or less). John Corey Whaley's Highly Illogical Behavior was a good choice because it is an easy read (brief, with a compelling story and believable characters) and offers much to discuss (mental health, general attitudes toward individuals with mental health problems, ethical dilemmas connected to the characters' actions, and the universal longing for connection). I enjoyed it and I'm hoping the other members found some good in it as well.

Seventeen-year-old Lisa Praytor wants nothing more than to escape her hum-drum existence in Upland, California. She has set her heart on the second-best psychology program in the country and hopes to get in on a full scholarship through an essay contest offered by the program. But can she write a stellar essay that will put her head-and-shoulders above the competition? She thinks she can if she connects with and assists an individual with a mental health problem. Enter Solomon Reed.

Suffering from an intense panic disorder, Solomon had flipped out one day in middle school and submerged himself in the school's fountain in front of the on-lookers (including Lisa). Nobody ever heard about him again. The incident triggered a severe case of agoraphobia and his parents simply agreed to home-school him and alleviate his anxieties as best they could.

Lisa, together with her boyfriend, Clark, attempts to befriend Solomon and "fix" him so that he can feel safe in the world again. She doesn't expect what happens next: a genuine friendship between the three of them. At Solomon's house, Clark finally lets down his guard and feels comfortable and known in a way his athletic buddies, and even Lisa, can't provide. The closeness between Solomon and Clark threatens to undo his relationship with Lisa. Will their secret come out? Will Clark "come out"?

Things I liked: very endearing characters, intriguing plot-line, prominent contemporary issue, excellent writing, and plenty of discussion fodder. I did, indeed, fall in love with Lisa, Clark, and Solomon. I loved Solomon's parents and their approach to their son's issues. I loved Solomon's wise and spunky grandmother. I wondered whether Solomon would win them over or feel used at any point. I felt the portrayal of Solomon's illness was written with precision and handled with compassion. I appreciated the format of the novel, alternating between chapters from Solomon's perspective and chapters from Lisa's perspective. I even reveled in the name choices: Solomon (man going it alone), Praytor (preying on someone else), and Clark (Superman connotations). I enjoyed this read.

Things I struggled with: why, oh why, does society immediately jump to the conclusion that if a guy is unwilling to enter into a sexual relationship with a girl, he must be either a religious freak or gay? Are young men so devoid of true character that those are the only contingencies that would cause a teenage boy to stand firm in sexual boundaries? Thankfully, I think the author, while wanting to present these as options, did an okay job of portraying a character who is simply careful with his physical expressions of love. Still, it rankles that the premise of the story relies on society's current views of sexuality among teens: that everyone is doing it, that anyone remotely interested in another individual should be pursuing it, and that someone who doesn't must have a hang-up of some sort. I, for one, applaud Clark for being a character who senses the immanent distance between the two of them and decides not to engage in an activity that is meant to bond two individuals together for life.

I also struggled with Lisa's lack of conscience in the story. She only vaguely questioned her decision to use another individual for her own advantage. It was only the possibility of Clark's interest in Solomon that forced her to face her own selfish behavior in regard to Solomon. I guess I wanted to see her struggle more internally with her own behavior of treating someone as a means to an end. Still, at least her friends attempted to point out this lack of insight. In the end, I appreciated what remorse Lisa did express for her actions. I also appreciated the author's leaving the results of the essay contest up in the air. I was satisfied with the ending and glad to have read the book.

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