Connor and Isabel (Izzy) met at camp, and when the summer comes to a close, they promise to keep in touch with one another via email. They’re good friends — though perhaps “friend” is a term Connor wouldn’t quite use. He’s definitely more interested in Izzy romantically, but he’s not the kind of guy to say that.
Over the course of the following school year, they exchange emails regularly, updating one another on what’s going on in their lives. Connor lives on one of the islands outside Seattle and Izzy lives in Seattle proper, so they’re not too far apart from one another. They just seem to not get the opportunity to see each other in person.
As these two characters exchange regular messages with one another, not only do we see Connor becoming more infatuated with Izzy, but we see Izzy spiraling into depression big time. It’s not pretty nor elegant. It’s downright ugly. We see it coming through in each of those emails she writes (or doesn’t write), as does Connor. But what will it take for either one of them to get her help?
Crazy is Reed’s third book, and I think it might feature her most fully-developed characters so far. Connor is a romantic kind of guy, but never once does he fall into the idealized male character many male leads can fall into. His life looks pretty good all around, too. His father’s not in the picture, but he’s got a mother who takes care of him and begs him to give back to his community. He’s happy, for the most part. Izzy, on the other hand, isn’t as happy. She goes to a good school (of the hippie granola variety), but she feels like she’s an outcast. Even in her small school, she doesn’t feel like she has any friends. Her parents and her siblings aren’t anything worth bragging about, and mostly, she feels like she just doesn’t belong anywhere.
When the story starts off, we get to see Connor and Izzy in their immediate buzzing post-camp state of minds. They’re funny and raunchy in their initial email exchanges, but even in the laugh out loud humorous moments, there’s something slightly off in the tone with which Izzy writes. In fact, she’s almost mean to Connor. But he takes it. He plays off it. Eventually, though, Connor gets tired of letting her treat him that way, and he dishes it right back at her. Their relationship — which I reiterate is all via email — is dynamic and painfully realistic. It’s a good and a bad thing for both of them, as they treat one another as best friends and confidants, then as bitter enemies. They’re loving and destructive toward one another.
Reed is smart in setting up the book with dual narrators and offering not physical interaction. We’re forced to understand Izzy and Connor as individuals and as a pair through only their words. As a reader, I was immediately drawn to Connor, and it was because I thought Izzy used him. She’d made it clear she was lonely, and Connor was an easy person to turn to. But she makes fun of him and she doesn’t really talk to him. She talks at him about her problems and doesn’t ask how he feels. As the story progressed, though, and as I saw Izzy unraveling mentally, my heart really went out to her and to Connor. It’s brilliant because I became Connor in a sense, since I never quite believed Izzy’s stories after being mistreated; but when she hits her complete breaking point, suddenly her entire storyline made perfect sense to me. I was now everyone she’d been complaining about, and I was Connor, feeling like I had been a terrible friend in ignoring her cries for help. Moreover, the set up also helps us see why Izzy would feel comfortable telling Connor what she does and why she would feel he really wasn’t an ally to her. Aside from the skewed perspective she has because of her mental illness, she’s also aware of the screen divide. She’s comfortable treating him as she does because there’s not a physical repercussion.
There is no shying away from the details of bipolar disorder in Crazy, so don’t expect something watered down. That’s what made this book so powerful. Reed isn’t afraid to give an honest picture of how consuming this mental disorder is, and anyone who has suffered from depression or knows someone who has will see this hits very close to home. When Izzy hit her lowest points, I found myself choking up, not only because of what she was going through mentally, but also because I had misjudged her the entire time. I felt like I did to her exactly what she said everyone else did to her. I was so, so happy she had someone like Connor in her life at those moments, and since I don’t want to spoil it, I’ll just say that at the end, those characters got exactly what they needed and deserved. I think Connor and Izzy may be two of my favorite characters in a long time.
Crazy is a fast-paced read, due in part to the alternative format. It was an uncomfortable book to read, and it was effective because of that. I was never quite sure whether I should be laughing when I was or crying when I was. The emotional tone shifted frequently and needed to. Reed writes with a frankness and honesty, and she’s authentic. It’s easy to make a comparison to Ellen Hopkins, as fans of Hopkins’s storytelling will no doubt find Reed’s books appealing, but I think Reed is really carving a niche for herself. Her work appeals to both more reluctant readers because of her set up, execution of story, and pacing, but she also appeals to those who like having something to dig into because of those same reasons. Crazy will appeal to contemporary fans, particularly those who are fascinated with or have experienced depression.
Review copy received from the publisher. Crazy will be available June 12, and you will get a chance to hear from Amy herself that week as part of our Twitterview series and the summer blog blast coordinated by Colleen Mondor.