This novel begins with 19-year-old Richard Issych waking up from a suicide attempt, his brain still fogged from the pills he took. With powerful prose the author takes us directly into Richard's mind, awhirl with disconnected thoughts, memories and worries. Gradually the haze diminishes and he realises/remembers that he is in a psychiatric hospital, persuaded by his parents to sign himself in. Everything about the place drives him crazy: the absurd rules, the nurses who talk to him in condescending baby-talk, the scary patients like Eugene who hears the angels and Joey who constantly paces and moans.
Most of all Richard hates being imprisoned. At first he is not allowed to leave his room. Then when he can venture out, he must eat his meals in his room. The nuances of life in a psychiatric hospital come at us through Richard's eyes. Frantic to erase his existence, he is stymied by the stainless steel mirrors in the bathroom, the absence of belts, the locked doors and constant surveillance.
Eventually he begins to make a place for himself, helped by the friendship offered by his roommate and hindered—he believes—by the visits of his willfully blind mother. Like a meandering trail of acorns, we find pieces of the lonely and isolated life and the barriers between him and his parents. In the hospital, Richard cannot remain isolated. He must learn how to forge relationships, not only with the doctors and inmates, but also with his mother and father.
Teen angst is not something I would normally seek out, but the power of Jacoby's prose and the emotional truth of Richard's journey are irresistible. As a debut novel, there are some structural weaknesses. Also, the stream-of-consciousness prose, used primarily in the beginning and then tapering off as Richard moves forward, may not be for everyone, but I think it works given the boy's fractured consciousness and difficult emotions.
Full disclosure: I met the author at a writing workshop a few years ago and am reviewing the book at his request.
If you liked Girl, Interrupted and wondered how a boy would feel in that situation, this is the book for you. The emotional journey of this shy and sensitive young man is leavened with humor and beset by fear, but in the end holds a powerful truth.