Han Nolan's novel Crazy is one of those novels where after the first few chapters I thought myself, "This is a good book." After each subsequent chapter I thought, "This is a really good book." The format is unique, the subject matter, mental health, is handled beautifully, and each character's voice, decision, and idiosyncrasy is authentic. By the end of the novel, I concluded that this is a great book.
The 15 year old protagonist, Jason, narrates while voices in his head offer commentary on each circumstance in his life; the reader is also a part of these voices in his head. Jason acknowledges that we, the reader, are there as a character as well. A silent character, but we are there. This Greek chorus of voices offers encouragement, advice, humor, and catches the reader up to speed on Jason's history where we need it.
Jason takes care of his father who suffers from a progressively worsening mental illness. His father believes his son is Jason of Greek legend; he continually asks his son about the Golden Fleece, the Argonauts (Jason's new friends), and worries about the dangerous Furies getting to each of them. The only thing which keeps the Furies at bay is music. As it turns out, Jason's father can play the violin like a master. There are several sweet scenes of the father, deep inside himself, standing in front of a mirror for hours, his fingers bleeding, and playing the violin. His mental illness has stolen many things from him, but it hasn't stolen his ability to play beautiful music.
Alone to take care of his father, Jason's real journey is to come to terms with his mother's death, his father's deteriorating condition, and the blame he places on himself for all of it. He ignores his own mental health condition, yet he acts out at school in a variety of ways for the attention. Slowly, help crystallizes in his life in the form of new friendships. What I like about the novel is that the long term solutions do not come in the form of medicine, magic, or anything other than time, love, and people selflessly caring for others.
As crazy as it seems, Jason fights and pleads for things to stay the same. He begs for others to leave him and his father alone even though they live without food, heat, or a suitable roof over their heads (it leaks in many places). At first he is embarrassed for others to find out how they live. Then his embarrassment turns to fear of losing his father to the "system." If the right people find out, then he may never see his father again. His father is that sick.
As a reader, you fear for Jason's own mental health in the wake of his father's illness. His choices make sense even though they may not be the best choice or what logic would argue, but you know Jason needs help. He needs help caring for his father, but he needs his own help for himself. He is absolutely believable and I found myself really pulling for him. I began to filter out the background noise (the Greek Chorus) of the voices in his head. I wanted Jason to accept the help his friends were offering, and at the same time I wanted his father to be well, but with his son. It becomes painfully obvious that Jason's dad may never be well, and they may not live together for long. As Jason also realizes this his actions become more desperate.
His dad's mind is someplace else for much of the novel, but there are glimpses of the real man, Jason sees it. And his father sees it. In one of the more touching moments of the book, Jason holds up a picture of himself with his mother and father. His father places his thumb over his wife in the photograph and says to his son, "This is how it is."
There is a lot of great literature being written in the YA genre right now. Socially responsible and relevant books are on the rise seizing the role television's "After School Special" played in America through the 70s and the 80s. Of the eleven YA novels I've read since November, Han Nolan's novel Crazy is the first I'm going to label must read. And I've read some pretty good and worthy novels. It will absolutely be on the shelves in my classroom for a long time.