Highly Illogical Behavior

‘Highly Illogical Behavior’ Is a Hidden Gem of YA Literature

The novel offers a fresh approach to portraying mental illness in literature.

“Take away the things that make you panic and you won’t panic… Some people get cancer. Some people get crazy. Nobody tries to take the chemo away,” Solomon Reed thinks, to rationalize not leaving his house in three years. Solomon isn’t a real person. He is a fictional character who suffers from a real disease, agoraphobia, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, is an anxiety disorder that causes the sufferer “to fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.” In Solomon’s case, leaving home could bring an onslaught of panic attacks.

Solomon is only one of the protagonists in John Corey Whaley’s young adult (YA) novel, “Highly Illogical Behavior.” The other is Lisa Praytor, a 17-year-old girl who is dead set on fixing Solomon’s agoraphobia. However, she doesn’t want to help Solomon so much as she wants to win a scholarship for writing about the psychological breakthrough she suspects will happen once he is cured.

Whaley wrote the novel to express the way he felt when he had anxiety and to help the public better understand mental illness. “Part of the frustration [of people not understanding mental illness] is you can’t explain how you feel, because if someone’s never experienced that very specific type of mental illness you have it’s very difficult to explain it to them,” he told Mashable.

On the surface, “Highly Illogical Behavior” may seem like a light read, but it is deeper than you think. Whaley’s novel is a hidden gem of YA literature, as it offers a fresh perspective on mental health while featuring engrossing conflicts.

Unlike other novels, Whaley’s story offers readers a look into both sides to mental illness, rather than only the person struggling with the illness or only the person who doesn’t understand the other character’s illness. He uses the third-person omniscient point-of-view and alternates chapters between Solomon and Lisa’s perspectives.

When a book only tells the story from the viewpoint of the person with mental illness, readers often wonder why the other characters in the story don’t better understand that person. Take John Green’s “Turtles All The Way Down,” for example.The main character Aza and her friend Daisy get into a fight about Aza’s anxiety. Daisy thinks Aza’s anxiety makes her selfish and spoiled, because it prevents Aza from taking interest in Daisy’s life and seeing that she is more financially well-off than Daisy. Since that particular story is told from Aza’s viewpoint, readers are left scratching their heads as to why Daisy would have so much resentment toward Aza even when she knows that Aza can’t control her anxiety.

In “Highly Illogical Behavior,” readers can understand the intent of the characters without mental illnesses more clearly. For example, you have an easier time grasping why Lisa thinks she can fix Solomon: with her Type-A personality, she feels the need to be productive all of the time.

I think she acts that way because she feels like she always needs to be in control, given that there are so many elements in her life she can’t control, like her dad leaving, her mom’s choice in men and whether or not her boyfriend Clark will stay with her after she graduates. Because readers get a peek into her life, she doesn’t seem like so much of a villain.

When a book focuses on the person who isn’t struggling with mental illness, readers only get to know how the world sees that person, and thus lose some empathy for the character with mental illness. One example outside of Whaley’s novel is Boo Radley from “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Although readers aren’t sure if he has a mental illness, Boo, like Solomon, chooses not to leave his house, which inspires the neighborhood children to spin all of these tall tales about him. The story is told from a young girl’s viewpoint and so readers see Boo as someone to fear because that’s how she sees him.

I think “Highly Illogical Behavior” would have been a different book if it was just from Lisa’s perspective. Readers who are not well-versed in mental health information would probably still think Lisa’s plan is unethical, but spend the whole book wondering why Solomon can’t just leave his house.

Lisa’s mom dismisses Solomon’s homebound nature as the result of bad parenting, saying that “he needs a beating,” and Lisa’s best friend Janis wants to know why she is spending all of her time with that “crazy kid.” Everyone else’s perceptions of Solomon would have an effect on the reader, creating less sympathy for Solomon and his condition because the absence of his perspective takes away insight of his agoraphobia.

Not only does the novel do a great job diving into the complicated world of mental illness, it also features multiple conflicts which act as driving mechanisms throughout the plot. The conflicts in this novel are all a result of Lisa’s plan to solve Solomon’s agoraphobia. First, there is the internal conflict that Lisa faces when she decides to go with her plan. Even though she doesn’t say it through much of the story, I think she is just as troubled by the ethics of her scheme as everyone else in the story is. People keep on telling her it’s wrong, but she thinks fixing Solomon will clear her of any wrongdoing.

Lisa also finds herself in the middle of several external conflicts. Clark is initially jealous of how much time Lisa is spending at Solomon’s house. After he finds out Solomon is gay, he still doesn’t like how Lisa is cutting into their time together to hang out with Solomon. This conflict is easily resolved when Clark starts accompanying Lisa to Solomon’s house. Her best friend Janet is upset with her for the same reason as Clark. Once Solomon learns of Lisa’s plan, he is very upset with Lisa and Clark for stringing him along even though they actually enjoy his company.

While these conflicts do drive the plot, they also serve as a way to remind the readers that your actions, no matter how well-intended you think they are, have consequences. These conflicts help Lisa grow as a character by teaching her not to prioritize her ambition over people — especially ones whom she cares deeply about.

Don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of “Highly Illogical Behavior” from your local library or bookstore, so you can be drawn into this humorous yet deeply informative story. It’s only the logical choice to make.

Myah Clinton, University of Alabama at Birmingham

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Myah Clinton

University of Alabama at Birmingham

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