I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
Published by Dial Books on May 10th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Format: ARC, hardcover
Reading Challenges: 2016 50 Book Challenge
Source: ARC from Edelweiss, Purchased from Barnes and Noble
Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.
Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But is ambition alone enough to get her in?
Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa steps into his world, along with her charming boyfriend, Clark, and soon the three form an unexpected bond. But, as Lisa learns more about Sol and he and Clark grow closer and closer, the walls they’ve built around themselves start to collapse and their friendships threaten to do the same.
ALL HAIL JOHN COREY WHALEY.
In a year filled with 3-star books (admittedly because I’m trying to stick to the “3 stars is average” rule), I’ve not read many books that have truly impressed me. I should have know that Highly Illogical Behavior would be a book to break the mold. It’s been kicking around on my Kindle as an ARC since March, and I even purchased the book in August because I knew I’d love it. I’ve adored Whaley’s other books, Where Things Come Back and Noggin in the past, and Joy Piedmont over at the Someday My Printz Will Come blog likes Highly Illogical Behavior as a Printz contender. Why didn’t I pick this up sooner?
Highly Illogical Behavior is the story of Solomon Reed, Lisa Praytor, and (to a lesser extent) Clark Robbins. Solomon has agoraphobia and has not left his house after an anxiety-induced incident at his middle school three years prior. Lisa Praytor is desperate to get into the number two psychology program in the country, and needs a “personal experience with mental illness” for her admission essay. She decides to befriend Solomon with the intent of leading him through a little cognitive behavior therapy, game therapy, and friendship to “fix” him. Along the way she brings her slightly-distant boyfriend, Clark, and the three become fast friends over their mutual love of nerdy things such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Community, and card games.
With some time, Solomon starts to get better. He really wants to go outside to swim in the new pool he’s having his grandma put in for him, and he has fewer panic attacks than he’s had in a long time. But there are some chinks in this progress as the novel goes on: Solomon develops feelings for Clark, Lisa worries she’s losing Clark to Solomon, and Clark is uncomfortable with Lisa using Solomon as a project for her essay. Things get a little messy, but this novel ultimately surprised me with its fresh take on some tired tropes (coming out, love triangles, romanticizing mental illness).
First, let’s talk about the characters. I’ve been binge watching Degrassi on YouTube and I couldn’t help but imagine Solomon, Lisa, and Clark as characters from the show.
Lisa, like, Becky Baker, is the squeaky-clean perfect girl with a big heart and a self-serving agenda. She means well and really wants to be a good friend, but she has trouble differentiating people as complex individuals separate from the labels attached to them (ie, Solomon is more than his agoraphobia). But she learns — slowly, and with some back-sliding — to broaden her own horizons and be a good friend.
“Jealous of the crazy gay kid. That doesn’t sound right.”
“Hey, Sol,” she said, her tone getting serious for a second.
“Those are two things about you out of a million. Don’t box yourself in.”
Solomon, like Riley, is sweet, caring, kind, and just figuring out that he’s gay. He simultaneously wants to deal with his situation and actively avoids it. He also has a crush on a (presumed) straight boy. Clark, like, Sav Bhandari, is handsome, athletic, and has a secret nerdy side. He has strict, religious parents, but is a good, open-minded hometown boy who everyone can’t help but liking.
Admittedly, the above paragraph and image are a bit of self-indulgent comparison, so I want to apologize if you have no clue what Degrassi is (it’s a teenage soap opera. Watch it.). But just as Degrassi’s characters make mistakes, struggle with their feelings, and eventually grow up, so do Whaley’s characters in Highly Illogical Behavior. I got the sense that this is just one episode in their lives. The novel opens with some pre-existing threads, such as Lisa remembering watching Solomon have a panic attack in the school fountain, Solomon’s desire for a swimming pool, and Clark’s unwillingness to have sex with Lisa. And the story concludes with several loose ends, which I won’t cover here because, you know, SPOILERS. But rest assured I felt the novel could end with a “next time, on Highly Illogical Behavior!” preview showing us where these characters go in the future.
What else did I love about this book besides the lovable, dynamic characters? Here’s a rundown:
- The treatment of mental illness. Though the premise here is that Lisa wants to “fix” Solomon, this is not a book about friendship fixing everything. Lisa’s intentions are never taken seriously by the third-person narrator, so the reader knows from the get-go that this is a terrible plan. Beyond that, I felt that the novel was a realistic depiction of what anxiety is like and why it’s not just as simple as “Solomon is just spoiled and his parents should force him to leave the house!” Whaley takes mental illness seriously and gives Solomon a host of other personality traits that flesh him out as his own person independent from the frustration of fearing the world outside of his home.
- The treatment of being gay. Solomon is gay. He tells this to Lisa early on, and everyone in the story reacts positively to the news. No worries about how he can know he’s gay if he never leaves the house and has clearly never kissed anyone. Of course, his feelings for Clark bring conflict into the story, but this is handled appropriately and no one worries about their masculinity being threatened. Refreshing.
- A love triangle done right. Hey, how about a gay/straight love triangle where people can (eventually) have open, honest, and supportive conversations with ALL MEMBERS OF THE TRIANGLE? When Lisa finds out Solomon has a crush on Clark, she struggles with potentially losing her boyfriend, but also genuinely wants Solomon (and Clark) to be happy.
- The pacing/length. Sometimes I think literary YA feels it has to be 400 pages long to develop characters and stories. But Highly Illogical Behavior, like Whaley’s other novels, comes in at around 250 pages. Whaley keeps his general plots simple, his scenes tight, and his pacing moderate. There’s not unnecessary fluff or indulgent bloat here, which I always appreciate.
If the novel has any flaws, they could be in that final point: that some people may think the book is too short, or the plot too simple. I also wanted a little more development for Clark, particularly regarding his relationship with Lisa (there was at least one loose end there I wanted resolved that wasn’t). I also wanted a little more of the nerdy references, but that may be because I wanted different nerdy references (I’m not a Star Trek fan).
FINAL GRADE: A
With all the praise I’ve been giving, how could you expect any less? This is definitely a five star read and I highly recommend it. Whaley excels at characterization here, and that alone is worth the read. It’s a fast read that will linger in your brain long after the final page. If you like John Green and Jandy Nelson, Highly Illogical Behavior should be on your TBR!