Release date: 30 August 2016
Natalie Roman isn’t much for the spotlight. But performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a stately old theatre in Savannah, Georgia, beats sitting alone replaying mistakes made in Athens. Fairy queens and magic on stage, maybe a few scary stories backstage. And no one in the cast knows her backstory.
Except for Lucas—he was in the psych ward, too. He won’t even meet her eye. But Nat doesn’t need him. She’s making friends with girls, girls who like horror movies and Ouija boards, who can hide their liquor in Coke bottles and laugh at the theater’s ghosts. Natalie can keep up. She can adapt. And if she skips her meds once or twice so they don’t interfere with her partying, it won’t be a problem. She just needs to keep her wits about her.
I think The Form of Things Unknown paints a very realistic picture of what living with a mental illness is like. Nat had a psychotic breakdown due to a drug incident, and after treatment and the subsequent move to her Grandma’s, she is hoping to have a new start. It is summer and she and her older brother join the local theater production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. There, she comes across Lucas, a former patient like her, whom she had seen around before. While learning to make friends and adjusting to new people, we see her struggle to maintain secrecy over her past, as well as question whether she is hallucinating certain things.
A point that is brought up frequently during the course of the novel is how mental disease is considered a stigma. Nat fears what the knowledge of her breakdown and the fact that she is undergoing medical treatment would do to the fragile friendships she has just formed. When there are strange incidents at the supposedly haunted theater that make her question her sanity, it becomes a psychological minefield for her. Her paranoia and anxiety over this is brought out wonderfully by the first perspective, and is written well by the author. Another thing that evokes empathy is how Nat feels like she is being a burden to her family, who already have to deal with her schizophrenic grandmother.
While the tone of the novel is mostly psychological, there is a mystery element in it – with Nat trying to figure out what is real, the haunting, or if it is her brain chemistry skewing her view of her world. The romance is sweet, and I like that Lucas treats her well and understands her on most occasions. The friendships depicted – well, they were a bit of a cliche. The reveal was kind of abrupt, in my opinion, and the ending rushed up to resolve it. But overall, the book was good.