Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Release Date: November 2nd, 2021
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Thank you to Atmosphere Press for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley. All views remain my own.
I was really keen to check this book out, especially after seeing the premise. There are a lot of themes just mentioned in the blurb, themes which, honestly, it’s great to see explored within Middle Grade and YA, but to me, The Lost Language of Crazy really failed to hit the mark.
Penelope is a thirteen-year-old girl who dreams of being a writer. At the start of the book, she explains she changes her name regularly, trying on different ones to find ones that fit. For a large part of the book, she is known as ‘Pilar’ to various people. P has won an award for a play based on her and her father, but it doesn’t have an ending and she feels pressured when her teacher discusses the future performance. P wants to play the dad, but the teacher says she can’t do that. When P discovers a secret about her past and her parents, she loses her voice, and finds herself unable to communicate.
To start, I want to say I can how the author really is trying with this book, and is striving towards diverse representation. However, it felt like the book was too simplistic to get into any of the sort of in-depth exploration these themes really deserve. A lot of it, too, read as if it was set in the 80s or 90s, when it’s supposed to be present day. Just the way some of the characters interact and deal with certain issues, especially when it came to mental health, felt more akin to the reception and treatment of mental health in decades past rather than the last 15 years.
P’s best friends are a young Muslim girl and a young trans boy, though the word trans, as far as I recall, is never used. He is also consistently referred to by the protagonist by his deadname, as in, “…when he used to be…” or as “when he used to be a girl…”. As for her best friend, there’s a lot of references to her not wanting to wear her hijab, but this is so little explored it feels almost squeezed in. It feels like there were just a lot of instances where a little more research into some harmful tropes could have been beneficial.
I think a lot of this book could have been really strengthened by that extra leg of research, a bit more exploration into the characters, and even by setting it fifteen, twenty years previously. There’s a very…seemingly outdated view of a psychiatric facility, and the treatment of certain illnesses. It all feels a bit over the place. The style itself is a bit jumbled as a way of conveying P’s own mindset, but often this is at a detriment to the story itself.
I usually try to find the good in books, the things I liked that others might be drawn to more than I was. Unfortunately, there’s little I really liked in this book. I do think the author is trying very hard to bring attention to mental health issues, especially in Middle Grade, and it’s definitely a theme that needs more exploration in this age range, but too much of this book came off as clumsy and poorly researched.