Words on Bathroom Walls
Review By Jarad Johnson
For the past ten years or so, there has been a desire among most Americans to lead a healthier lifestyle. Eating well and exercising regularly are now seen as essentials, and Vegan and Vegetarian diets have become mainstream and fashionable. But most of the modern world still struggles with taking care of their mental health, which has just as much of an effect on a person’s well-being. Even though mental illness has been here since the beginning of humanity, there is still a strong fear and stigma associated with it. In ancient times, people were believed to be possessed by evil spirits, and even as recently as two hundred years ago, mental illness was not met with the same sympathy as it is today. Treatment and initiatives in support of the mental health are often rooted in compassion. Yet many people still are afraid to go to therapy or to take a mental health day from their jobs. Stigmas like these embrace both prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behavior towards those affected, and the social effects of these are far reaching. This definitely shows that the stigma around mental illness is held by a broad spectrum of society and obviously still exists affects people’s lives today.
In the spirit of erasing stigma and educating people about that topic, I recently picked up the book Words on Bathroom Walls, by debut author Julia Watson, about a teenager named Adam struggling with Schizophrenia in a Catholic High School where no one knows about his condition. In the midst of trying to cope with everyday teenage issues, he’s also trying not to see the mobsters firing guns in the cafeteria or the elderly woman doing cartwheels down the sidewalk. And how do you tell what’s real and what isn’t?
I don’t often find myself really liking a main character as much as I did Adam. There is something so endearing about his portrayal; he’s not some sort of classic cookie cutter character that many YA novels have. He seems like a real person. For instance we learn that he loves to cook, in short, the author let us see the niceties and quirks that make up a real human..
There are times when a book is amazing because it offers an escape from reality, but I find that this particular novel was great because it offered an insight into reality, specifically Adam’s reality. One of my favorite television series was called Perception, and it told the story of Dr. Peirce, a brilliant neuroscientist who struggled with Schizophrenia. Sadly, the show only aired for three seasons, even though it was brilliantly done, in my opinion. Since the show ended, I have seen nothing that so accurately portrays what it is like to have this condition. I found no stigma nor stereotype throughout the book, and I think the author did an excellent job of telling this story without de-humanizing Adam. Oftentimes, I find that anyone with a mental diagnosis like schizophrenia is either feared or shunned. There is even a point in the book where Adam remarks that he would have rather had cancer, because cancer patients got more sympathy and compassion.
The entire narrative is told from the letters that Adam writes to his therapist, because he doesn’t want to talk to him during his sessions. From the beginning, we learn that Adam is on a new trial drug to treat his condition. Gradually, he starts to develop an immunity to the drug, ad through his entries, you really get to witness his gradual mental decline. It is sometimes difficult to read, but very important to the story as a whole.
Overall, I really did love this book. I think it opens up an important conversation that we all need to have about mental illness, to erase the stigma and the shame associated with it. I also greatly enjoyed the plot. Adam was such a likeable character, and even though his condition is heartbreaking, at the end of the book he still had hope that he would find the right drugs to alleviate his condition, and with the current advancements in the medical field, I feel like he has reason to.
Jarad attends Middle Tennessee State University, loves tea, and tries to spend every spare second reading. Jarad is majoring in English. Bless his heart! Let's all light a candle for him and send him happy thoughts!