*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: ‘Every Last Psycho’ contains two tales of two girls; ‘Every Last Thought’ and ‘Psycho Girl.’
One girl hears voices screaming in the shadows; the other burns with self-absorbed hunger.
Every Last Thought:
‘Rocking backwards and forwards; deep breaths in and out’
Sixteen year old Tess Davis suffers from schizophrenia, triggered six years ago by the onset of her twin brother’s death. She’s felt broken ever since. But when new guy Ed moved to her school two years ago, life gave her a reason to live joyously. Ed made her happy, becoming the friend she needed. But she didn’t plan to fall in love with him, and love isn’t always requited.
Distraught by Ed’s new girlfriend and a horrific trauma Tess endures, she finds herself spiraling out of control and into cocaine-fueled delusions. Will she be able to regain a grip on life?
‘Deep inside, I feel nothing. I am nothing.’
Eighteen year old Evelyn Baxter is beautiful, confident, popular and well off. Everyone loves her; her friends, her family, her boyfriend. She is all set to apply to the University of Cambridge to study Law.
But when another girl in her year gets accepted into Cambridge and she doesn’t, Evelyn’s perfect mask starts to peel away. Murder, deceit and manipulation show Evelyn to be the monster she truly is. But will those around her realize it?
One is the victim of cruelty, the other creates it. One lives in the concrete jungle of London, the other in the suburban town of Bletchfield. Both novellas are in one binding, echoing the dark horrors within.
These two novellas have many similarities: both feature a young, female protagonist; both deal with some very difficult issues and both employ a first-person perspective.
In ‘Every Last Thought’ the first person narrative gives a fascinating insight into the inner life of someone struggling with her mental health and substance addiction issues due to self-medicating her distress. These are weighty topics and seeing them from Tess’ viewpoint really brings home the reality of day-to-day life when you cannot trust what your own senses are telling you.
This effect also influences the reader, as Tess is, of course, an unreliable narrator and therefore it is difficult to trust her perceptions of events. Also the stream of consciousness style of writing from the point of view of a character as chaotic as Tess makes the plotline quite scattered and disjointed, as it reflects her mental state.
I have a lot of sympathy for Tess, as she is clearly dealing with huge issues: *Trigger Warning* her story involves death, violence, rape, mental illness, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts *end TW*. However there is an inherent selfishness in her as a main character, as she treats every other character, friends, family, as pieces to be moved around and discarded at her convenience. This is perhaps a symptom of her youth or the difficulties she is facing, but it makes it harder to empathise with her as she makes her demands on her loved ones with little thought for their needs.
Likewise, Evelyn in ‘Psycho Girl’ is an equally problematic character. Again, we receive the story from her narrative voice and it is a cold one. She lacks empathy or compassion for anyone around her, making her a very difficult character to like or empathise with. In addition to disparaging comments on racial accents, she makes observations like the following:
I believe that homeless people, beggars, disabled people; anybody weak deserves to die. The weak must be weeded out, as they bear no contribution to society.
– Evelyn in ‘Psycho Girl’ (Every Last Psycho, Zarina Macha)
I recognise that these are the views of the character and not the author, but they make uncomfortable reading!
I did like the comparisons the author drew with films like American Psycho and The Bad Seed, which fits in neatly with the overarching theme of the two novellas – the reality of mental illness vs our perception of it (first-hand or via pop-culture). Also I thought it clever that the climax of this story brought us back to the difficulty in trusting our perceptions of reality when viewed through a flawed lens.
Overall these were two quite challenging novellas. The idea behind each is a fascinating one, but I felt that the execution did not quite come off as well as it could have, mainly due to the inherent difficulties of these particular narrative voices.
It is also difficult to identify the readership for this book, as the teen protagonists, school settings and ‘growth journey’ storylines all suggest teen/YA (and that is how Amazon has categorised the book) however the casual sex, explicit rape and violence and frequent expletives tip the balance into a more adult audience, in my opinion.
There are few books that take the brave step of expressing mental illness directly from character to reader in the way that Zarina Macha does here. If you are interested in a different perspective on the issues mentioned then these stories certainly provide it!
Then Mum asks the question she’s been dying to ask.
‘So how’s Ed? I haven’t seen him in a while.’
I stop eating. Freeze. My spoon hovers in mid-air. Stare straight ahead at nothing. Once again, they glance at each other. Dad stretches out a hand, waving it in front of my face. I see Mum try to stop him. Too late. She knows he shouldn’t have done that. Slowly I turn to face him. ‘Your mother was just asking a simple question.’
Get up. Hands fly in the air. Table knocks over. Crash. Cereal falls everywhere. Parents skid back on their chairs. Dad rescues his newspaper. I stand; blue eyes cold and expressionless, staring at the upturned table. My parents are silent. Without blinking, I leave the room. Don’t want to be late for school.
– ‘Every Last Thought’ in Every Last Psycho, Zarina Macha
Every Last Psycho releases on Amazon on 13th July and you can preorder it here!