Review: The Symptoms of My Insanity

Review: The Symptoms of My InsanityThe Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf
Published by Dial BFYR on April 18, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Gifted

A laugh-out-loud, bittersweet debut full of wit, wisdom, heart, and a hilarious, unforgettable heroine.

When you’re a hypochondriac, there are a million different things that could be wrong with you, but for Izzy, focusing on what could be wrong might be keeping her from dealing with what’s really wrong.

I almost raised my hand, but what would I say? “Mr. Bayer, may I please be excused? I’m not totally positive, but I think I might have cancer.” No way. Then everyone at school would know, and they would treat me differently, and I would be known as “Izzy, that poor girl who diagnosed herself with breast cancer during biology.”

But Izzy’s sense of humor can only get her so far when suddenly her best friend appears to have undergone a personality transplant, her mother’s health takes a turn for the worse, and her beautiful maybe-boyfriend is going all hot and cold. Izzy thinks she’s preparing for the worst-case scenario, but when the worst-case scenario actually hits, it’s a different story altogether—and there’s no tidy list of symptoms to help her through the insanity.

Yet again, my strong desire for a book stemmed from the awesome cover (not the final cover shown above) more than the blurb. Sure, the blurb is funny and all, but that’s not what really raised my interest. This turns out to be yet another reminder that I should probably stop seeking out books that I wasn’t especially interested in before I saw the cover. Though I didn’t precisely dislike The Symptoms of My Insanity and some of it was quite humorous, I had a lot of issues with it as well.

What Mindy Raf does best are the funny, awkward scenes, and those are where she comes closest to capturing teenage life. The horrors of getting fitted for a bra, the discomfort with your body, and getting your long hair stuck on someone’s glasses, prolonging an already tense moment. Those things work well, and Raf made me chuckle a handful of times. These small moments, the teasing and the day-to-day stuff are the aspects of The Symptoms of My Insanity that really worked.

For the most part, I feel like this novel couldn’t decide whether to be serious or funny, and often ends up being vaguely disquieting, as the lighthearted tone jars with the serious subject matter. Mindy Raf attempts to tackle cancer, sexual harassment, friendship, and slut-shaming, all while keeping things funny, and the darker subjects do not get the respect they deserve.

Take, for example, Izzy’s hypochondria, which she develops as a coping mechanism for her mother’s slow but fatal cancer. Izzy started out researching her mother’s disease, and gradually became a bit addicted to an online web diagnosis site, paranoid that every sniffle or stomach ache is an omen of disaster. Sure, hypochondria can be rife with humor, and Izzy’s development of it in correlation to her mother’s illness is convincing. What is less convincing is the way that, once a few jokes have been told at her expense and her hypochondria has been pointed out to her by more than one person, poof, it disappears. Awareness of a problem does not immediately conquer it.

Then there’s Izzy’s mother, who I suppose I ought to be sympathizing with, since she’s dying a slow death from cancer. However, she is enormously hard to like, since she tears down Izzy’s self-esteem left and right. Izzy’s body issues mostly come from her mother, who suspects her of being a lesbian if she wears loose clothes and accuses her of being inappropriate if she wears anything tight. Apparently, if a girl has large breasts, wearing anything form-fitting or remotely low cut is inappropriate. Way to make her feel like her body is disgusting. Yes, Izzy’s mom learns lessons about this in the long run, but, again, I felt like the denouement was rushed, and a bit unsatisfying, since it came basically two pages from the end after hundreds of pages of narrow-minded vitriol.

Most upsetting by far, though, is the plot line involving sexual harassment. Izzy ends up in a compromising position with a boy, very much against her will. Despite the fact that he and his friends have similarly harassed two other girls, her friends, Izzy doesn’t report him or do anything other than give him the cold shoulder. Izzy and her friends are just sending them off to hurt other girls, because, if they hadn’t learned their lessons hurting the two friends, they certainly won’t have learned it now.

Along this vein, I don’t think the female friendships were handled well. Jenna and Izzy are supposedly best friends, but neither one seems to care for the other at all. Jenna withholds information that could help Izzy avoid pain, all because Jenna felt neglected by Izzy over the summer. Now, I get feeling neglected, but the reason Izzy was so busy was taking care of her mother who was going through cancer treatments, so how about a little leeway. Yes, Izzy could have been more thoughtful of her best friend, but she also didn’t know anything was happening. Of course, once Izzy learns what Jenna’s issues were, she still doesn’t inquire or support Jenna, so there’s that. Meredith, who neither liked much at the outset, proved a much better friend to both, even they judged her unfairly.

The language is a bit stilted, and rarely does Izzy really coalesce into a character I had a strong handle on. Her personality doesn’t seem particularly set in stone yet, and, if I were to describe her in one word, that word would be naive. So many things are going on that should be obvious to Izzy, like the issues with her crush or Jenna. I called what was up with both of them in their earliest scenes, but Izzy was completely shocked to figure out the truth hundreds of pages later. For all that she’s concerned about her mom’s health, that, too, takes her time actually believing that she’s having health problems, despite the really obvious evidence and her obsession with all things medical.

Izzy’s burgeoning healthy romance I did like. In fact, for once, I am wishing for more romance, rather than having that as the weak point in a novel. The scenes in which Izzy speaks with the boy are the ones where the dialog feels most natural, even in the way they end up saying the wrong things and fighting. They banter and have things in common the way that Izzy and the rest of her friends and family do not really seem to. Overall, there was an authenticity of character and emotion that was lacking.

I realize this has turned into a rant, but I did like parts of this novel quite a bit, and I do envision a good future for Raf as a writer. The humor is well done in places, and the tougher subjects show promise. The Symptoms of My Insanity tries to do too much and ends up not quite satisfying overall. Though I didn’t end up loving this, I will be open to trying Raf’s sophomore novel.

Favorite Quote:
“Maybe facts and formulas comfort Marcus, but I think that article he read was totally wrong. You don’t love chemical reactions or particles or neuron receptors. You love whole people. Including the parts you didn’t know were there, and the parts you’re waiting for them to become.”

10 responses to “Review: The Symptoms of My Insanity”

  1. I swear, Jenna was the shittiest friend ever. She knew what Izzy was going through and who that guy was, but she still couldn’t bring herself to say anything. Meredith came out of left field for me and seemed mostly out of place throughout the entire novel. What was her motivation to start being friends again?

    Also, that was my favorite quote from the book as well.

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I really didn’t get why Meredith was so friendly all of a sudden. At first, she’s excluded them because she was popular, then she’s using Izzy to sneak out, and then she’s suddenly really supportive. It was a bit off the wall. Maybe she was supportive because of Izzy’s scandal, since she went through something similar?

      By far the best quote.

    • I honestly thought she had something to do with the Blake thing at first. It seemed a little too coincidental for me.

    • Christina says:

      I didn’t really think so, but…hmmm. It does seem possible. Mostly, I think it was clumsily constructed. With all she was trying to do, there wasn’t time to really establish any of the relationships properly, so it ends up being confusing and not selling the emotions.

  2. Megan K. says:

    Eh, haven’t been seeing many positive reviews for this one lately. It’s disappointing, because it held such great potential! You’re not the only one who judges books by their covers, too. I do that way too often. It’s hurting my wallet so bad. Though the coming of age part the author captures so perfectly is definitely a plus, I don’t think I’ll enjoy the book much, due to the reasons you listed. If there’s one thing I truly dislike, it’s when characters and their interactions with each other aren’t done properly.

    Sorry this didn’t work out for you! You seem to be reading a lot of books with good romance, though. 😉

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, it’s seriously disappointing. The other two reviews I’ve seen have been pretty similar. It’s not bad, but it misses on a lot of levels.

      Seriously, I have to stop hunting things down because of the cover. It almost always ends in tears all around. Since I read for character more than anything else, it was a real shame. I can forgive a lot for awesome characters, but without them it’s tough at the best of times.

  3. Estelle says:

    Hi! I just read over my blog partner’s review of this yesterday and it seemed like OH SO MUCH as you said. For real! Did you think the author should take something out or a bit more finessing could have made it work? I feel like one of my biggest issues with book sometimes is the massive pile of problems a character has… but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

    Great review!

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I think if she’d chosen one major plot line and maybe one or two minor ones, it would have been okay. Also, decide what the overriding tone was going to be. Removing the whole sexual harassment element would be my recommendation, because I don’t think that fits with the light hearted tone I think would be most ideal, since Raf’s experience is largely in comedy, and she should take advantage of that.

  4. Thank goodness I did not request this one. I was tempted, but then I looked at my pile and was like, this summary does not grab me at all. Your review makes me feel vindicated over that life choice, ha ha.

    Also, I don’t really get why that one girl Jenna is upset about the main girl not being around for the summer, especially because main girl’s mom has fucking cancer. Uh, dumbass her mom could die, cut her some G-D slack.

    And here I am ranting without having read the book.

    • Christina says:

      I do that ALL the time when I see things I didn’t get that people hate. I’m all “good life choices.”

      For real. That was so whiny. Like, yeah, she probably could have been more present, but I bet if Jenna had called and been like I went through some serious shit, Izzy would have made time. Her mom was going through cancer, so she was kind of focused on that.

      Ha, you would have choice things to say.

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