Seasoned YA writer Han Nolan is back with a book tackling a tough topic (mental illness) with sensitivity and humor. Humor, you ask? The conceit she has happily stumbled upon takes a page out of drama-writing school as she gives "voice" to five characters the young protagonist, 15-year-old Jason, hears in his head. As the real-time action and dialogue unfold, these voices inject their own opinions like a modern Greek chorus, and Nolan uses their names followed by the colon, just as in a play script.
Jason lost his mother to a stroke and now is contending with a father who suffers from a swiftly-deteriorating mental illness. In a house with little food, heat, or cleanliness, the situation becomes dire and the "voices" become shrill. Jason, who invented the voices "for company" in 5th grade, knows them as Fat Bald Guy (FBG), Sexy Lady, Aunt Bee, Crazy Glue, and Laugh Track. Each has its own personality, by turns sarcastic, critical, supportive, nurturing, mocking, irrelevant, and funny. They help him get by as crisis follows crisis, and at times amuse the reader as well.
The narrative arc of the book follows attempts by Jason's high school friends -- Shelby, Pete, Haze, and school psychologist Dr. Gomez -- to help both Jason and his dad. Also in the mix are foster families, courts, and hospitals. But the real attraction is not so much the plot as the characterization. And, of course, the essential question: just who is crazy here and who gets to define what it looks like? Overall, this is a creative and compelling outing for Nolan which will appeal to readers interested in psychology, social workers, and teens under duress.