A movie-obsessed teen struggles to cope after the older brother she idolizes is diagnosed with a mental illness.
After a summer out of town, Amelia “Meals” Anderson, a white 16-year-old from upstate New York, notices her beloved older brother, Toby—who shares her love of movies—has become a pothead. Although everyone is concerned about his increasingly erratic and disturbing behavior, she continues to cover for him out of sibling loyalty. As Meals starts a long-distance romance with her summer fling, big-eared, white Epstein, things with Toby turn scary, and he's eventually hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Unable to open up to anyone, Meals finds solace in the school film club, led by "Somali kid" Abdi. It's clear the author is a former film critic (Amelia's memories are often formatted as screenplay scenes), but Meals’ exhaustive knowledge seems improbable. Meals and Epstein's romance is another misstep, with off-putting, casually graphic descriptions of their physical intimacy and unnecessary miscommunications. Because of Amelia's frustrating unwillingness to admit Toby's schizophrenia, it is ultimately depicted as a catalyst for her personal growth rather than a nuanced mental illness. Although there are some titles on mental illness mentioned in the acknowledgments, it’s a pity there is no author’s note or list of resources for readers who want or need to explore further.
Thumbs up for close siblings but thumbs down for this bland issues-novel debut. (Fiction. 14-18)