Life is but a Dream
by Brian James
Sabrina, an artist, is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and her parents check her into the Wellness Center. There she meets Alec, who is convinced it’s the world that’s crazy, not the two of them. They are meant to be together; they are special. But when Alec starts to convince Sabrina that her treatment will wipe out everything that makes her creative, she worries that she’ll lose hold of her dreams and herself. Should she listen to her doctor? Her decision may have fatal consequences.
My Thoughts: I was really surprised when I learned that the author of this book had also written Zombie Blondes, and I enjoyed both books although they are very different.
Life is but a Dream deals with mental illness. Unlike The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, and various other YA where the heroine’s mental illness is really some ability to see the dead, see fairies or some other variety of psychic powers, Life is but a Dream is about schizophrenia. Sabrina is a teenager who has recently been committed to a mental health hospital, and the story takes place in both the present and the past.
I wasn’t so sure I was going to like this book, we kind of got off to a bad start. At first the writing style, with all the dialogue in italics instead of proper quotation, got on my nerves. But the more I got into the story the more I realized that it all kind of fit. It gave a sense of unreality to the dialogue, which fit Sabrina’s state of mind.
My favorite part of the book is how the author explains Sabrina’s schizophrenia, because I’ve never understood before why someone with that diagnosis would ever want to go off their meds. I really sympathized with Sabrina wanting back some of the beauty that her illness provided, and understood that, as the medication was working, how she could rationalize that she could get the good back without the bad.
In the hospital Sabrina meets Alec, who is there because it was one way for his rich daddy to get him out of some trouble with his school. There’s an immediate attraction and Sabrina thinks she’s met someone that really understands her. Alec is the one that encourages her to go off her meds, but only because he can’t comprehend the magnitude of her illness. Along with Alec, and Sabrina herself, we watch as she spirals out of control.
This is not a pretty book, there is no magical cure for schizophrenia although it can be managed with medication. It is a profound look at the realities of mental illness and it’s hard not to feel for Sabrina. She’s so lost and confused, unable to understand why it was cute for her to believe in fairies when she was a child, but how it just makes people uncomfortable now that she’s a teen, how the pictures she used to share with people no longer make them smile but instead make them look at her with fear. How she goes from special good to special bad. Brian James does a fantastic job getting inside Sabrina’s mind, so much so that I could understand why she did some of the things she did. Honestly, it’s a little terrifying to realize how easy it was to see things from Sabrina’s point of view.
I realize that I’ve been going on and on about how realistic Sabrina’s battle with schizophrenia was, but while I’m familiar with bi-polar and borderline personality order, depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment, I’ve never known anyone that is living with schizophrenia. I’d really like to know if it’s a fair portrayal, but even if it’s not, James doesn’t exploit the illness so much as he shows how common it can be.
I’ve said the book isn’t pretty, and it’s not. It made me cry a little, it made my heart hurt for people like Sabrina that might not have family to take care of them, but it’s a good book. Just no puppies and rainbows here.
Life is but a Dream gets a Midnight Book Rating of:
*I read this book through Around The World ARC tours, but all opinions, snark and wit are my own and were not influenced by receiving (briefly at least since it’s a tour and the point is to send it on to the next blogger) a copy of the book.