By Susan Vaught
Available now from Bloomsbury
Review copy courtesy of Lena of Addicted 2 Novels
Jason Milwaukee, AKA Freak, isn't your average narrator. He's schizophrenic and his observations of the world are interspersed with aural hallucinations. His best friend Sunshine disappeared between getting off the bus and going home, and there's a 24-hour window that's the best chance of finding her. Jason knows her best and thus refuses to take his meds, since they'll make him sleep for eight hours. He's willing to do whatever it takes to find Sunshine. Unfortunately, he might've hurt her. If only he could remember what happened last Saturday . . .
Susan Vaught gets deep into Jason's head and really imagines what life would be like for him, Drip, and Sunshine. The refrain "no one listens to us" might be repeated a bit too much, but it's very true. But it is a balance. Jason has good instincts and is capable of making decisions for himself. Yet there are times when he's completely confused about what's really happening and thus not competent at that point in time.
There is no big twist in FREAKS LIKE US. What happened to Sunshine is a mystery, but Jason has all the clues he needs, if he can manage to put them together. It's much easier for the reader to assemble the pieces, but that's not the point. The point is seeing the world through Jason's eyes as he struggles to figure out what happened and separate the reality from what his voices tell him happened. Vaught also shows how he grows through the loss of one of his most important people. There are some wonderful parallel scenes that show how he matures, in a mere 24 hours. But I don't want to paint FREAKS LIKE US as a bildungsroman. It's not. (It could have been Sunshine's bildungsroman, but it's not.)
FREAKS LIKE US is a fantastic psychological mystery. The narrator could've been a gimmick, but Vaught's a better author than that. Jason is not defined by his disease. He's defined by his desires, by the way he approaches relationships, by the secrets he chooses to keep, and the way he'll do anything to help his friend. I loved spending time with Jason as much as I enjoyed spending time in his head.
FREAKS LIKE US is often funny, frequently sad, and always exciting. I hope many new readers are attracted to this bold little title. Best of all, Vaught isn't a new author so I can go see if she has anything else this good in her backlist.