Friday, April 12, 2013

Voices: Cameron and the Girls by Edward Averett

I feel myself being pushed aside. Soon, I can't tell what is real. Am I really traveling down the West Side Highway with my dad, or am I just making it up, or is somebody making it up for me?
"It doesn't matter. Life is all made up," said the Other Guy.

"No," I say.

My dad sneaks a peek from the corner of his eye.

"I mean yes," I add.

What if my dad isn't real? What if all of life isn't even real and your life takes place on some alternate planet? Where only voices live? I think of what The Girl said. What if we are the voices in their heads?

"That would suck," I say out loud.

Cameron knows he has a problem. The doctor calls it schizophrenoform disorder, and says that if he takes his medications for a year and carefully tapers off, it may not come back. But the drugs don't really work. They keep the craziness down to a low buzz in his brain, one he can usually ignore, but he still has one voice in his head, the annoyingly sensible voice of The Professor who interrupts his private thoughts with good advice that Cam hasn't asked for. Worse, he can't quite feel his feelings. Cam feels like a interloper in his own body, a stranger in a strange land even inside his own head.

So he decides to skip the meds and see if he can take charge. At first, he welcomes the return of real feelings, even anger.  And then he hears a new voice... a soft, sweet voice, The Girl.

"Hello, Cam."

Cam, I want you to know that I'm here just for you. I think you're a great guy."

The Girl's voice fills Cam with a warm, soft joy like none he's known. But when he answers her out loud, the looks and questions of the kids in his Emotionally Disturbed Class drive her away.

But then there's Nina. Nina is new in the class. She tells Cam she's there because she is depressed, and she invites him to skip school with her, and because something about her draws him like the voice of The Girl, he goes along. They talk and Cameron realizes that Nina is the first person who has ever needed him. They make a pact to try to stay off the meds together and see if they can take charge of their illnesses and their lives. Then he begins to hear the voice of The Other Guy.
Do it anyway.

Hard and demanding. As if I must obey or else.

Do it now, chicken boy.

The Other Guy is right. What had been keeping me from doing something like this? Maybe I always should have listened to him. Now, instead of fear, I feel a pulse of courage.

My heart goes out to you, Cameron, and I certainly understand your motives, but is this really the way to go?" said The Professor.

"I liked you better when you just give me the facts," I tell him.

This new voice--the voice of The Other Guy--begins to take over. He tells Cam to be tough, to take what he needs, to be the man he wants to be. He bullies Cameron into doing risky things, cruel things that he doesn't want to do. And worst of all, he has pushed the voice of The Girl away. Cam even realizes that he misses The Professor. Knowing that Nina needs him to hold on to her own life, Cam is afraid that The Other Guy will take him over completely.

Edward Averett's forthcoming Cameron and the Girls (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) is a compelling trip with Cameron as he sinks into a schizophrenic episode, struggling not to obey The Other Guy, trying to find The Girl inside his head, and finally falling into a hallucinatory state in which he very nearly is unable to help Nina when she attempts suicide. Averett, himself a clinical psychologist, takes the reader on an engrossing experience with Cameron as his mind seems to split itself apart. As with the unknown course of their diseases, Averett is unable to deliver an altogether happy ending to the story of Cameron or Nina, caught in the struggle between taking control of themselves, hard enough for all adolescents in the midst of their own Id, Ego, and Superego conflicts, and being controlled by their disease. A young adult novel best for mature readers with some knowledge of mental illness, Cameron and the Girls is an absorbing story which will bring some understanding for psychosis, and most likely, a greater appreciation for being sane.

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