Book Review: Schizo by Nic Sheff

Nic Sheff
Philomel Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-399-16437-8

Miles Cole will steal your heart. Unwittingly and apologetically, he’ll shatter it. With determination and pride, he’ll help to piece it together with tentative hope. This 16-year old boy is sweet, compassionate and justifiably troubled. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, his life teeters between reality and delusions, as a cacophony of medications race through his veins and scorch the lining of his stomach.

Mr. Sheff cleverly allows Miles tells his own story. In doing so, Miles’ observations identify and clarify surprising symptoms of this mental disorder providing readers with a rare glimpse of the self-loathing, ricocheting thoughts that constantly plague a riddled mind. Brilliantly, he illuminates the stigma of the psychosis with an almost casual thought, noting the incomprehensible, terrifying connection he shares with the tortured souls of the homeless people filling the streets. Futile attempts to build a relationship with a girl that is at best indifferent, too often cruel, are absolutely heart-wrenching. Empathy is easily evoked. This life must be a kind of hell; but Miles bears a burden that looms even larger.


His initial episode occurred during a family visit to the beach. The loud, frightening seizure commanded the attention of not only his parents and younger siblings; but seemingly the entire beach was focused on Miles. Amid the mayhem his young brother, Teddy is abducted.

Schizo begins with Miles considering suicide, as a means of relief for those he loves; but he sees another way. Everyone can be happy again. He must rescue Teddy. His fast-paced, courageous, ludicrous, quest is gripping. The kaleidoscopic range of emotions; hope, love, confidence, fury, self-doubt, wholly exhaust the young man. Symptoms are exacerbated with the mental, physical and emotional fatigue and the metaphorical roller coaster speeds up until it is hurtling out of control, with this reader clinging tightly, truly invested. Never have I wished so desperately to reach into a tome and hold a character.

As this irresistible story furiously frenzies to an end; Mr. Sheff deftly, (and dare I say a bit smugly) pulls the rug out from under the reader. A tiny twist delivers a punch so powerful that this already magnificent book is catapulted to phenomenal.

Sidebar: I have been a huge fan of Mr. Sheff’s writing since he bared his soul and captured my heart in Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines. I feel an almost kinship…..a familiar fondness for the young Mr. Sheff; which only strengthened when he wrung out my heart in We All Fall Down: Living With Addiction.

Working with an amazing English teacher, I have the privilege of giving “Book Talks” to five high school classes. In addition to introducing and recommending a book; a couple copies of the book are donated to the classroom library and a couple of copies from my own tiny library are shared with the students. So, filled with confidence that the students would love this book, at least as much as I do, that when I told them that there were a few copies circulating, I also blurted out, “…if you go out and buy this book and it does NOT rock your socks; I’ll buy it back from you!”

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2015.