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Aaliyah Murphy
Sandi Jacobs
Sandi Jacobs wasn't always sick, but after escaping from the clutches of her abusive father she never got a good grip on reality. Diagnosed with schizophrenia at the tender age of seven, Sandi's nightmares aggressively follow her into her waking life. No matter how far they are from her father's influence his presence always seems to be there, although reality might be blurred for her this isn't the case for everyone. Every time she gets closer to seeing just how thin the line is between her illness versus reality, something seems to always drag her back to square one. After a suspicious accident that left Sandi bruised and beaten is deemed to be part of her overactive imagination and taken at face value, her best friend begins to wonder just how sick she really is. She can pray and pray but what's the point of having a God if he lets someone else play his role?
“All I could see was schizophrenia, waiting for the right moment to strike,” Murphy writes, deep into this relentless fiction debut. The bluntly declarative pitch of those lines captures the spirit of Sandi Jacobs, a pained, often incoherent surge of shocking incidents, unreliable narration, and fleeting moments of human connection. The story’s told by the young woman of the title, whose diagnosis about a third of the way through the book, and subsequent hospitalization, casts a new light on the wild drama and violence that precedes it. As she bounces in and out of mental institutions—going "back and forth for so long that they started to feel like field trips”—Sandi is gaslit, abused, betrayed by others, and must face Schizophrenia itself, personified in harrowing scenes.

“Harrowing” is the term for Sandi Jacobs, a novel that rarely lets up its disorienting swirl of terrors, coming so fast that readers will wonder whether they truly happened or whether Sandi imagines them: when Dustin, the 19 year old who has impregnated Sandi’s 15 year-old sister, abducts elementary-aged Sandi from a boarding school where she’s giving a presentation in Italian, is he really chased by cartoonish thugs who call him a “cracker”? Does Dustin, at 19, truly rent cars and board airplanes with a blood-soaked little girl in tow?

In the climax, some of these unreliable details—like her teen sister’s bizarrely well-paid job cleaning a library—accumulate into a mystery Sandi must decide whether to face. But in the moment they’re merely confusing rather than suggestive, as the storytelling throughout is rarely controlled or convincing. The fevered narrative reads like a draft rather than a polished book as it bucks wildly, leaping in time and perspective with little warning, so much so that little clues don’t get a chance to seed, grow, and entice. Still, there’s raw power in the language, welcome interludes of warmth with a boy named Callum, and some of the jolting plot twists are inspired in concept, if rushed in execution.

Takeaway: A disorienting gush of a novel that dares readers to keep up with its young narrator’s mind.

Great for fans of: Francesca Zappia’s Made You Up, An Na’s The Place Between Breaths.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: C-
Marketing copy: B