Title: Freaks Like Us
Author: Susan Vaught
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 256
Jason Milwaukee is a seventeen-year-old boy with schizophrenia who calls himself ‘freak,’ reclaiming one of the derogatory words people use towards him. He goes to an SED class and his friends with a boy named ‘Drip’ (also a nickname) and a girl named Sunshine (no… that’s actually her real name.) Jason constantly experiences auditory hallucinations, Drip/Derrick has ADHD and Sunshine is selectively mute, but she talks to Derrick and Jason. One day Sunshine goes missing and Jason becomes determined to find her, even though he has increasing trouble trusting his own mind.
Freaks Like Us is a touching story about friendship, trauma, and what it means to be an outsider. Jason is a compelling character with a unique narrative voice and you really get a sense of how his schizophrenia affects almost every aspect of his life. He sounds much younger than seventeen (at first I thought he was about thirteen or fourteen) but that’s probably at least partly due to his illness. He’s quite innocent in a way and an unreliable narrator (like Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,) but he’s also smart and way stronger than people give him credit for.
At times his voice took on a somewhat steam-of-consciousness quality, which I liked. Sunshine was a pretty saccharine character (which I guess is to be expected of a character named Sunshine) and I never felt like she was all that well-developed. The FBI agent investigating Sunshine’s disappearance is typically hyperaggressive and confrontative with the kids he’s questioning, and I was left thinking that authors never really look up the methods people actually use to interrogate suspects. His turn-around midway through the book also seems a little abrupt, when he goes from suspecting Jason to believing him and becoming supportive towards him.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Freaks Like Us– it’s fast-paced and suspenseful but also does a good job at fleshing out it’s protagonist and showing his struggle with a debilitating mental illness. Susan Vaught shows an exceptional amount of care and empathy in her portrayal of teens who outside of people’s perceptions of ‘normal’ and how society tends to overlook and vilify them.