Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Quality of Prose: 3/5
Quality of Story: 3/5
Quality of Characters: 3.5/5
Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4.5/5
How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days
A 1 Sentence Summary
Adam Petrazelli, a teenager suffering from schizophrenia and the loneliness that comes with having a mental illness other people don’t understand, begins participating in a clinical trial for a medicine he hopes will change his life, starts his junior year at a new school, makes new friends, and tries his best to keep his illness from them.
My Favorite Quotes
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling, when I learned what someone would say if they knew my secret. What they really thought about people with my condition. Not the fake comforting words they’d give that other people would hear. The real words in their heart. If they knew I was a threat, they’d tell me to kill myself. They’d think I was a monster.”
“It’s hard to let someone find you in all the dark and twisty places inside, but eventually, you have to hope that they do, because that’s the beginning of everything.”
“Cancer Kid has the Make-A-Wish Foundation because Cancer Kid will eventually die, and that’s sad. Schizophrenia Kid will also eventually die, but before he does, he will be overmedicated with a plethora of drugs, he will alienate everyone he’s ever really cared about, and he will most likely wind up on the street, living with a cat that will eat him when he dies. That is also sad, but nobody gives him a wish, because he isn’t actively dying. It is abundantly clear that we only care about sick people who are dying tragic, time-sensitive deaths.”
What I Loved About It
I loved that this book gave me, and all its other readers, a brief glimpse into what it’s like to live with a stigmatized and feared mental illness as a teenager. There are a ton of YA books out there about suicide and depression that focus on what life is like for those who loved or knew the person who took their life (and those books are very important), but I haven’t found many YA books out there about protagonists who are living and currently suffering from a mental illness.
Though the main character, Adam, falls in love, this book is not at all a romance or even a traditional coming-of-age book really. It simply tells the story of a teenaged boy suffering from a disease that other people fear, while still dealing with all the normal reasons for teenage angst like family problems, friendships, and relationships. Life is hard enough as a healthy teenager, but to add in serious mental illness and the fear that people will discover that you have that mental illness, it’s almost unbearable. And Julia Walton expertly conveys that in this novel. She has created a very likable and very troubled protagonist in Adam. I didn’t care a ton about any of the other characters in the novel (like Adam’s girlfriend Maya or the mean guy at school), but I think Adam, his therapist, and his mother and step-father and the dynamics Adam has with each of those characters are really interesting and well-written parts of the story.
What My Students Could Learn From It
In Words on Bathroom Walls, the protagonist allows readers to walk in the shoes of someone with a misunderstood and feared mental illness. This is something all of my students could benefit from–those who suffer from mental illnesses themselves can certainly relate (and could use a novel with a protagonist they can relate to!) and those who don’t could really use some empathy and understanding with regards to mental health.
The main thing I love about this book is that Walton explores so many common misconceptions and fears people have about mental health through it. By setting the novel in 2012, Walton was able to discuss the Sandy Hook shooting and the hatred, distrust, and fear people around the country who had schizophrenia were faced with after that shooting. Adam’s school almost kicks him out after the shooting because the shooter at Sandy Hook also had schizophrenia, and they didn’t want Adam to do something like that at his school. The pain Adam feels at being viewed this way truly effected me and my own views on mental health and school shootings. Reading this book would make my students think about these things differently too.
I’ve said over and over again on this blog that the main thing I want to teach my students is empathy. In our society today, too many people are without empathy when it comes to mental illness. This book can change that.