Adolescence. It sucks. And it sucks even more when you’re struggling with a mental illness. Meet Cameron Galloway from Edward Averett’s young adult novel Cameron and the Girls. He’s 14 years old and suffering from schizophreniform disorder. Schizophreniform is a subset of the more serious Schizophrenia. Cameron has brief moments of hallucinations that he tries to control with medication.
Cameron takes special classes at his school that are designed for kids with mental health issues. It is here where Cameron strikes up a friendship with a girl named Nina. Nina suffers from depression and lives with her mostly absent and neglectful mother. Cameron and Nina grow close and support each other in a world that often looks at the mentally ill with guarded judgment.
At this time, Cameron also decides to stop taking his medication. Before long, two voices take up residence in his head. One is the Professor, a soothing presence who gives Cameron advice. The other voice is the Girl, a voice clearly based on Cameron’s friendship with Nina. Cameroon soon calls the girl his girlfriend.
Instead of being freaked out about hearing these voices, Cameron is comforted. They help guide and reassure him as he navigates his way through school, his friendship with Nina, and his relationship with his family. Cameron’s elder sister, Beth, tries to be protective of her little brother, but she knows he must take care of his mental illness. And when Cameron’s parents find out Cameron is no longer taking his medication, they flip out and struggle desperately to get their son to start taking his resume his medication.
But being a teenager, and finding the voices in his head, especially the Girl’s, soothing, not disturbing, Cameron refuses. The voices seem to provide him wise counsel and make him feel less alone. He’s convinced taking his medication will strip him of all that he believes he has gained from the voices. It isn’t long before he’s being dragged to the psychiatrist by his concerned parents and forced to take his medication through injection.
Cameron’s relationship with Nina deepens, but it also spirals nearly out of control as Nina’s depression gets worse and she’s often in a catatonic state. Will the Cameron and Nina situation become truly dire or will they find the coping mechanisms they so desperately need?
Cameron and the Girls is a sensitive and introspective novel that shows young people as they really are. They can be reflective, kind and compassionate. They can also be annoying, rebellious and difficult. This book also shows how mental illness can affect someone negatively without frightening us into thinking these young people will go off the rails and become dangerous and violent. Author Averett is a long-time psychologist who works on child and adolescent mental health issues so he knows what he writes about. Cameron and the Girls may be a novel aimed at the teen crowd, but I think adults will find value in it and in learning Cameron’s story.