Published by Algonquin Young Readers on October 20, 2015
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Thriller
Source: Bought (Used Bookstore)
Is Georgia’s mind playing tricks on her, or is the entire town walking into the arms of a killer who has everyone but her fooled?
When seventeen-year-old Georgia’s brother drowns while surfing halfway around the world in Australia, she refuses to believe Lucky’s death was just bad luck. Lucky was smart. He wouldn’t have surfed in waters more dangerous than he could handle. Then a stranger named Fin arrives in False Bay, claiming to have been Lucky’s best friend. Soon Fin is working for Lucky’s father, charming Lucky’s mother, dating his girlfriend. Georgia begins to wonder: did Fin murder Lucky in order to take over his whole life?
Determined to clear the fog from her mind in order to uncover the truth about Lucky’s death, Georgia secretly stops taking the medication that keeps away the voices in her head. Georgia is certain she’s getting closer and closer to the truth about Fin, but as she does, her mental state becomes more and more precarious, and no one seems to trust what she’s saying.
As the chilling narrative unfolds, the reader must decide whether Georgia’s descent into madness is causing her to see things that don’t exist–or to see a deadly truth that no one else can.
Diversity: 0 – What Diversity?Racial-Ethnic: 0
Disability: -5 (Georgia has schizophrenia and its handling is why this book gets 0 stars)
It takes half the novel for Georgia to tell us so, but she has schizophrenia and is taking meds for it. To be fair, the story’s premise isn’t unbelievable either; people have done something similar where they kill a person and then endear themselves to the victim’s loved ones so they can enjoy the victim’s life. That fact and the book’s overall message of “you need to stay on your meds for your own health” is the only good I can find in If You’re Lucky. Really.
To start with the least debatable points, the book uses both the r-word and the g-word. In the latter case, it comes with a mitigating factor that doesn’t actually matter at all: Fin’s dad and Fin himself are both jazz musicians. Specifically, they play gypsy jazz, a very specific style. You can tell me “but the author is just using the correct term for the music style,” but it was entirely the author’s choice of what style of jazz music to use. Prinz chose the only style of jazz that had a racial slur in its name.
So yeah, you’re not fighting me on use of the g-word in this book.
We can all agree on one thing: teens with mental illness deserve to see themselves in YA without the focus being entirely on their mental illness. Those books can help them understand their condition, but they deserve to be the heroes too. They should be able to see themselves as the gumshoe in a mystery novel, the tech genius and ringleader of a scheme in a sci-fi space opera, and the teenage spy in a thriller. A recent book, Antisocial by Jillian Blake, charmed me in part because it was a mystery/thriller starring a girl with social anxiety disorder. It didn’t rule her life and it wasn’t inconsequential; it simply changed the way she did things the way we learn to navigate the world with our illnesses in mind.
That’s why my disappointment and anger with If You’re Lucky is so great: I originally thought this book was going to be a schizophrenic girl investigating her brother’s mysterious “best friend” with little focus on her illness. I’ll admit I didn’t read the jacket copy as closely as I should have. If I had, I would have seen this coming.
But allow me to let you in on something: even when on meds, mentally ill people may still have some symptoms. For instance, I have generalized anxiety disorder, but I still live with anxiety despite being on meds for it. The stuff I take will never cure me of my anxiety; it helps me cope with and control my anxiety levels. Considering I suffered from severe psychosomatic pain and even an irregular heartbeat pre-meds, I’m very happy with where I am now.
It was entirely possible for Georgia to stay on her meds, investigate, and not be believed solely because of things she did pre-treatment, but that’s not what happens. Instead, she goes off her meds and goes into a downward spiral as her symptoms return in full force. This is how I know this book is only written for neurotypical readers who want their thrills supplied by a schizophrenic person suffering. At best, a schizophrenic teen would take from this book that yes, they need to take their meds, but there are less harmful and drawn out ways for them to learn that lesson.
AND ON ONE FINAL NOTE, the book’s jacket copy endangers mentally ill people with its “clear the fog of her mind” line. It’s a common argument I hear from people who don’t understand how my meds interact with my system. It implies that taking medication fogs our minds and make us “less” than ourselves, but that simply isn’t true. If anything, it’s the other way around: we’re fogged up and “less” than ourselves without treatment. Once we get help, we’re able to clear that fog and operate without our mental illness sabotaging us every step of the way.
I’ll be fair again and say If You’re Lucky delivers the message that you need to stay on your meds because it suppresses your symptoms and allows you to be the most “you” person possible. That makes the jacket copy’s line baffling, but that’s casual ableism for you. Shame on whoever wrote that specific line (authors rarely get to write the jacket copy for their own books).
This book may be about a schizophrenic teen, but I would not hand this book TO a schizophrenic teen under any circumstances. Even though Georgia gets back on her meds in the end after the boring climactic scene, it isn’t a pleasant experience and you leave this book with nothing. No lessons learned. No satisfaction. Nothing. I’d wipe this book from existence if I could.