Amelia Anderson has always been happy to be Toby’s younger sister, and that’s what makes his sudden onset of mental illness so difficult to navigate. In The Movie Version, Emma Wunsch tosses her protagonist into a difficult situation, in which she is forced to define herself for the first time. Unfortunately, the way Wunsch’s text treats Toby’s schizophrenia leaves much to be desired, and ultimately makes the book nearly impossible to enjoy.
But let’s start with what’s good. The Movie Version centers on a pair of siblings who communicate through movie quotes, taglines, and trivia. Unlike many novels that attempt to make use of niche culture, Wunsch’s young adult title doesn’t over-explain the Anderson siblings’ movie references, and their love of films feels natural and authentic.
When Toby’s mental illness begins to manifest, however, everything that was enjoyable in The Movie Version disappears. Toby becomes the stereotypical schizophrenia patient we’ve all read about: obsessed with The Lord of the Rings, convinced The Beatles are sending him messages through his radio, and determined to escape the surveillance state he believes surrounds him. The Andersons have never dealt with any mental illness before, as evidenced by this conversation between Amelia and her father:
“Honey, Toby is sick. And it’s serious. It’s not his fault and it’s good that we found out before he hurt himself.”
“What is it?” I take my forehead off the window and look at my dad.
“Schizophrenia. Toby has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He hears things and sees things that aren’t really there.”
Although Mr. Anderson follows up this strange, somewhat patronizing description of his son’s diagnosis by saying that “[s]chizophrenia can be treated,” The Movie Version never shows any people living “normal” lives with schizophrenia. There’s no evidence in the text that this is even possible. The Andersons attend support groups where neurotypical participants relate their family members’ progresses and setbacks, with no input from any people with schizophrenia, much less from organizations like Hearing Voices. In Wunsch’s novel, the healthiest people with mental illness that we see are those living in a rehabilitation center, where they are constantly monitored and maintained.
As if that wasn’t problematic enough, Amelia spends the majority of the novel refusing to take part in anything schizophrenia-related. When her long-distance boyfriend educates himself on mental illness and tries to talk to her about Toby’s condition, she rejects him, and sets off on an hours-long return to her home without letting him know that she’s leaving.
Amelia’s aberrant behavior opens the door for The Movie Version to discuss how supposedly healthy people can exhibit behaviors associated with mental illness, but the novel fails to explore its heroine’s actions in any meaningful way. Instead, The Movie Version uses Toby’s mental illness as a catalyst for Amelia’s personal growth: she has sex for the first time, learns how to drive, and kisses her brother’s best friend, all because Toby has schizophrenia. It would have been much more entertaining — and much less problematic — to read a YA novel written from the perspective of a character with mental illness, but there’s nothing of the sort here.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review. As this copy was an uncorrected proof, all quotes used here may have changed in the final version.
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Image credit: Redd Angelo