Title: Freaks Like Us
Author: Susan Vaught
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Summary from Goodreads- When Jason Milwaukee’s best friend Sunshine vanishes, Jason knows that something is terribly wrong, but solving her disappearance will require pushing through all the voices in his head and then getting the world to listen to him. His schizophrenia is stopping him from remembering the events leading up to her disappearance, and often he discounts his own memories, and his own impressions. But his deep knowledge that he would never hurt his friend, plus the faith of his parents and a few others in the town bring him to the point of solving the mystery. In the end, it’s Sunshine’s own love for Jason (Freak) that persuades him of his own strength and goodness.
This book would have been good even without an amazing protagonist because the storyline itself is so gritty and suspenseful, but Jason’s character was what truly left an impression on me.
On the surface, this book is a thriller, complete with the FBI and a dash of romance. But looking beneath that is the story of a boy on the edge of society, fighting his inner demons with the help of the girl he loves, even when she’s not around to tell him what’s real. It’s a story about living on the fringe of life and learning how to listen to yourself when no one else will.
Through this book, Vaught grapples with and illuminates many of the struggles faced by the mentally ill, mostly via the building relationship between Agent Mercer and Jason. Mercer is quick to suspect Jason of hurting Sunshine, as mental illness is what society tends to blame for violence. Vaught also deals with a problem many mentally ill people face, which is a lack of recognition and voice. Jason struggles to be heard and believed throughout the book, but because of his disability, even his parents think he needs to have someone else speak for him and be protected, not just from intolerant people like Mercer, but from himself as well.
There were two happenings in particular that made this book even more powerful for me. The first is when Jason realizes that although he claims others don’t listen to him, he listens to himself least of all. He discounts his own voice because he is afraid it is being influenced by the other voices he fights to ignore. He realizes that he, too, believes himself responsible for Sunshine’s disappearance, because the monsters in his head prevent him from remembering what happened the Saturday before she disappeared. When he decides to waive counsel and speak to Mercer without his parents present, it is a big moment for him, and an emblem to how Sunshine’s absence has changed him for the better.
Even more touching is the relationship that develops between Jason and Agent Mercer. As previously mentioned, when Mercer meets Jason, he is all too quick to suspect him of hurting his best friend. The FBI agent even tries to provoke Jason to get him to confess to what Mercer believes he did. It is only after Jason and Drip are brutally beaten that Mercer even begins to try to understand what day-to-day like is like for his top suspect. Jason’s story and perseverance change Mercer in a way that is incredibly touching. It was wonderful to see how Mercer not only came to accept Jason’s innocence, but to see him strive to learn more about the lives of the mentally ill. Jason is truly the driving force of this story.
On top of having a fantastic, unique protagonist, Vaught’s writing was creative and different as well. Most of the time I couldn’t tell if I wanted the story to go on or for the italic bits from inside Jason’s head to keep going. The way she broke up the story clearly showed how Jason thought in a way I haven’t seen other writers even attempt to do. Vaught’s style captures perfectly Jason’s pains and anxieties and desires, making this book quite the ride.
Freaks Like Us is an amazing story in every way that will haunt you long after the last page.