Edward the “Crazy Man”

That is the title of a children’s book on homelessness and schizophrenia I borrowed from the library.

I first heard about the book from a Facebook friend who posted a picture of it as a joke to his friend who is named Edward. I knew I had to read this book and then share it here.

Edward the “Crazy Man” by Marie Day, on Amazon.ca, has 1 review of the book and it was given 2.5 stars. No one on Goodreads had rated the book so I was the first and gave it 2/5 stars.  If you go with the typical mainstream view of mental illness then this book is great but when you hold a critical lens up to it the story really falls apart. I will go over my 4 major concerns.

1. Edward has what?

If you are writing a book about a specific diagnosis I think that information is important. At no point in the book does the author mentions that Edward has schizophrenia (this information is written in the back of the book in the author’s note to the reader). All the author does to “describe” schizophrenia is having Edward design and wear costumes he has made from found materials (which is cool and creative) and say that Edward “had a serious illness that affects the brain” (pg. 18), “Because of his illness Edward kept hearing voices in his head…” (pg. 19) and “All Edward did was decorate his hat with flowers made from scraps while he talk to himself in a loud voice.” (pg. 20) If you have no idea what schizophrenia is you wouldn’t know it until you reached the last page of the book and since it is actually not a part of the story are parents even going to read it to their children?  The author also mentions that even the best medications couldn’t make Edward “normal”. I wouldn’t look forward explaining that whole part to my children.

2. The Normal Saviour

Edward was doing very poorly until a grown up Charlie (the other main character) comes and gives him a job as a costume designer. To me, this instills the idea that people with mental health issues need to be saved and only people without mental health issues can do so. I understand that everyone needs help and it is great to know that Charlie never let Edward’s experience scare him, but it still is sending the wrong message. Without Charlie, Edward would have and be nothing except “Crazy Man”. Also, the story is told from the perspective of Charlie, who is “normal”, and I know I would love to hear Edward’s side of the story since we are supposed to be learning about his experience. But, “normals” know best I guess…

3. Mental Illness as a Spectacle

Edward is something to watch. Now, I don’t think anyone could look away from someone dressed in a costume like what Edward wears but he is looked upon and judged by everyone. I am also unsettled by the idea that individuals with schizophrenia walk around and make a spectacle of themselves. Of course, if this is who they are then all the power to them.  I just feel like the author chose the spectacle route because it was the only way to “see” schizophrenia, but it just brings up other issues. I guess it’s more fun for the children? “Oh look, mental illness involves costumes!” ??????

4. The Constant Need to Prove Worth

Edward, from the get-go, has to prove himself. Edward has to show that “Crazy Man” is not a bad man. He saves a young Charlie from being hit by a car which is basically the only reason adult Charlie helps him later, “That day I was almost hit by a car and you saved my life…Now I can finally thank you.” (pg. 18) and before his co-workers will stop calling him a “weirdo” and hoping Charlie fires him, Edward saves the day but making an elaborate costume for a rockstar and lands Charlie’s costume design company the rockstar as a client. What if Edward hadn’t of pulled that off? His co-workers would probably have continued to judge him and ignore and maybe Charlie would have even fired Edward because the discrimination was upsetting the workplace.

 

Edward the “Crazy” Man” is a book with good intentions. The author does not have lived experience but possibly saw someone she cared about become sick with a mental illness (although details are not discussed). I would love for more children’s books to talk about mental health issues, but it needs to be done with care and knowledge of the community.

 

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10 thoughts on “Edward the “Crazy Man”

  1. I don’t know about “normal saviour” but honestly “Edward gets a job where he can make costumes all the time like he loves and is good at and survive on it” is pretty much the wet dream of every artistic person, mental illness or not. In the real world you’d probably have some normal jerk-posing-as-savior convinced he/she can take advantage of Edward’s talent cuz he’s “clearly not plugged in right” and just tell him making costumes for free is “great exposure!”
    It also ties in to other half-formed ideas I have about our current societal structure just being a damnation for anyone who’s brain operates differrently, or is not able to do the grind of barely surviving to maximize profits for the bigger fish above them.
    What if we had a world where the strengths of people with schizophrenia and other diagnoses had a place, not because we need “normal saviors” but because we have things of value that aren’t always currently acknowledged? If “think different” wasn’t just an empty slogan?

  2. I haven’t read the book but it sounds like it does indeed rely on my stereotypes. My mom had schizophrenia, and she did not ever wear costumes, nor would you have been able to pick her out from anyone on the street or even if you spoke with you. I wouldn’t find the book particularly helpful.

  3. The road to writing a children’s book to educate them about an Issue is paved with good intentions…I think what might be more helpful would be to write a book from a child’s point of view, showing both positives & negatives of a relative with mental illness without judging them- kids can often be very accepting until they are taught to label people and stigmatize them.

  4. Okay, disclaimer: I obviously have not read the book, just your review of it. I trust you, Kristen, and I believe you are extraordinarily fair-minded. But I still feel like I need to make clear I have no firsthand knowledge of this book.

    I agree wholeheartedly that introducing the concept of mental illness at a young age is certainly a laudable intention. You are (of course) so very right when you say it needs to be done with “care and knowledge”. This is a difficult task, so I do commend the author for trying to take it on.

    That having been said, here are my major impressions from reading your review.

    First of all, if I were a kid I’d probably take away the message that if I keep playing dress-up as an adult, someone will notice how awesome I am and hand me a job.

    Points two and three really bugged me for reasons that are pretty intertwined. Point two is pretty much that Charlie is everything society expects healthy, “normal” adults to be — to the point of boredom. Edward, on the other hand, is painted as the most outlandish human being ever.

    It strikes me more like the author was trying to make Charlie a foil for Edward, emphasizing the latter’s behavior and illness by contrast. Now that’s a valuable literary tool if you’re writing for an older audience, I remember identifying and learning its function in books we read around 13 or 14. But it really doesn’t belong in a children’s book. Very few kidlets have such an advanced understanding of literary devices. 🙂

    Of course, maybe the author was just thinking “opposites”. (Because yes, I actually just analyzed a children’s book with regard to literary devices, subtly, construction. . . Oy.)

    But whatever way you look at it, the point of Charlie is to make him as different from Edward as can be. And in my opinion, using comparison in such a stark manner (as you mentioned, schizophrenia is never actually discussed in relation to Edward’s behavior) when dealing with mental illness is unacceptable. We are none of us so completely defined by our disorders that we fit a profile in exact opposition to the “mentally normal, healthy, well,” — whatever societal construct is the “right” one.

    Also, I particularly loved how Charlie just gave Edward a job (because that happens in some weird alternate reality, I’m sure, but in this reality, hell no). I love that you point out the need for Edward to constantly prove his worth. That is incredibly accurate to real life, I hate to say. Many mental health consumers are held to a higher standard, even if it’s an unconscious perception. And many of us feel pressure to outperform our “normal” peers (we need a better word than “normal”), to prove we are in fact worthy and then some.

    Where this book goes batshit screaming off the rails (to me) is when it turns Edward into a hero at work. I know so many people with some kind of challenge who have Edward’s incredible gifts, but let’s get real and talk about the part where suddenly having a full-time job — with coworkers that make the environment hostile to you, yet — is going to make most people with severe mental illness decompensate to some degree. I don’t care what the job is, that kind of huge life change would have me fighting for any small hold on stability. Yet Edward, as far as I know, doesn’t need any accommodations for his illness. Nope, he does more and he does better than his coworkers, with no concessions whatsoever made regarding his symptoms. I do understand that many individuals who deal with mental health challenges could actually do that, and I think it’s amazing. But schizophrenia rates pretty high on the scale of seriousness and debilitating mental health conditions. (Let me be completely clear, no generalizations about people intended. I’m speaking of the illness in the abstract). And Edward was doing poorly before our hero Charlie appeared, he wasn’t even high-functioning at the time.

    That message, while I’m sure it is unintentional, is highly dangerous. Edward was in fact fully equipped to hold down a job after all! He must have been choosing not to work because it’s so much fun not to take on responsibility, to live off the government (i.e. the taxes that “responsible, good people pay”). Mental illness and other disabilities really are a lifestyle choice, made either intentionally, or because no one ever made disabled individuals work. When you finally get individuals who claim such issues employed and show them the truth, they can totally function like “normal” people.

    Okay, Kristen. I think I may have taken that WAY too seriously and effectively shredded the book. While I stand by my points, the vehemence, sarcasm, and anger that accompanied my thoughts were (mostly) not aimed at this book. Use your discretion when deciding whether you ought to approve my comment turned rant. If you trash it, no offense will be felt. I defer to your sound judgment. 😉

    • I think it needs to be taken seriously since books are a major source of learning for young children. I agree with your points and considered them to. I based my thoughts on my personal experience and knowledge/education in critical mental health. I become extremely nervous whenever books are written about mental health (as I’m sure many of us do) and that fear can immediately make me rush to my “all day side”.

      Edward is a good man and that did come across in the book very clearly. Charlie is also a good character because he never judged Edward and there is a part in the book where he leaves materials from his own home for Edward to create with and the next day Charlie sees Edward wearing an amazing costume made from the materials he left. I wish I could get a full time job that easily as well lol.

      I have spoken to children about mental health issues and they know a lot of good things about but they also are still fed a lot of stereotypes from parents (ie: a group of kids I spoke with recognize that some people become homeless because of a mental health or addiction issues but say that we shouldn’t give them money because they might use it to buy drugs or alcohol). I think overall, I’m less concerned about the children and more about the adults since it is up to the adults to help put the story into a meaningful context for children. If I read this book to my future children a really great discussion would ensue or even if I read this story to the children I work with. There is adult responsibility in this.

      Thank you for your comment!

  5. dont think i will read this. i didnt like the way it was portrayed and i trust your review since you know about these things, even tho your not schizophrenic yourself. all schizophrenics are not like he was! in fact most arent. XX

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