Mental illness is often mishandled in fiction: characters are portrayed as unpredictable, incompetent, or violent, misinformation is peddled, and stereotypes abound. John Corey Whaley’s Highly Illogical Behaviour works to undo some of this damage.
Solomon is a 16 year old Trekkie who’s tended on the shy side. Since age 13, he’s experienced recurrent panic attacks and not left the four walls of his home. But with his treadmill, computer, and home schooling, and the support of his well-meaning family, he’s mostly okay with life.
Lisa is a driven 16 year old who wondered what happened to the boy whom, three years earlier, disrobed while distressed and tramped through the school’s fountain. With her sights set on winning a scholarship to study psychology, she manoeuvrers her way into Sol’s life like it’s a chess game. She intends to ‘cure’ and write about him, without his consent.
What Whaley gets right he gets very right: not only do we get a study of ethics and the humanisation of Sol, but the dialogue is humorous; the story is almost ticklish in its warmth. Sol is as flawed as he is interesting and fun. Whaley gives him agency, and whenever there are jokes about mental illness, they’re where they should be: in Sol’s hands.
HIB missteps on important things. Like other stories about agoraphobia, we are again given the impression it’s always severe and equates to remaining for years at home. Also, Sol’s first ‘panic attack’ contradicts known psychological mechanisms, his age of onset is uncommon, and he has limited risks and many protective factors, which makes the development, continuation, and severity of his mental illnesses harder to fathom.
Overall, HIB is an enjoyable triumph: Whaley’s writing never loses its light, affectionate tone, Sol is rarely treated as the problem, his subsequent panic attacks are visceral, and we are gripped by increasing waves of alarm. But we want what Sol wants, when he wants it. It’s this gift—of dignity and self-determination—that sets the story apart and fills this reader with optimism.