Words on Bathroom Walls

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Book Review

Words on Bathroom Walls tells the story of an adolescent struggling with the mental illness schizophrenia.

Plot Summary

Adam Petrazelli is 16 and schizophrenic. He frequently sees people who aren’t there, and he has a whole cast of characters in his head. There’s a girl named Rebecca, whose moods mirror his own. There’s Jason, the naked guy. There’s a mob boss and his henchmen and a number of other people. Adam is glad to be part of a drug trial for a new medication called ToZaPrex, but he refuses to talk to his therapist about his life. He writes to the therapist in a journal, where he lays out his most intimate thoughts and feelings.

Adam is starting the year at St. Agatha’s because of problems at his former school. He, his mom and stepdad, Paul, aren’t particularly religious, so he makes frequent jabs at his Catholic institution. A snob named Ian, whose parents are big donors, ditches Adam when he’s supposed to show him around.

Adam runs into a girl named Maya who helps him get to class. Later, Adam saves Maya from drowning in a pool. They become friends, and Maya encourages Adam to join her on the academic team. Adam’s keen memory makes him an asset.

The drug seems to be helping Adam, and he’s feeling more confident in his ability to manage life. He’s more able to silence the voices in his head. When a boy with a mental illness kills dozens at Sandy Hook Elementary, teachers and administrators who know about Adam’s schizophrenia are uncomfortable with his being there. Ian says that someone like that should have killed himself. He looks right at Adam, indicating he knows about Adam’s disorder.

Adam and Maya’s relationship continues to develop, and they become sexually intimate. Adam also spends time with a goofy but faithful friend named Dwight. When the annual Stations of the Cross play comes around, Adam is assigned the role of Jesus. Just when Adam has achieved a sense of normalcy, the researchers decide the ToZaPrex is too dangerous for him. They begin to wean him off the drug.

Adam sometimes refers back to the words he’s seen scrawled on the bathroom walls of school. One phrase says “Jesus loves you” and the other next to it says, “Don’t be a homo.” He feels these phrases epitomize his circumstances because they contradict each other, like everything in life. One says come as you are, but the other passes judgement. One gives hope, the other takes it away.

Adam still hasn’t told Maya about his mental illness or the drug trials. He has promised to take her to prom and plans to go through with it, despite his waning mental state. He saves up some of his pills and takes too many before prom.

Ian reveals Adam’s disorder to everyone at the dance, and Adam makes a scene. Only after Adam is hospitalized does Maya learn the truth. Adam tries to push her away, but she argues it is her choice to make whether she stays with him. Maya and Dwight stand by him in the days ahead, and Maya frequently asks questions to better understand Adam’s experiences.

Christian Beliefs

None

Other Belief Systems

Adam, who comes from a nonreligious family, attends a Catholic school. He admits, even to a priest during confession that he doesn’t believe in God. He thinks that’s OK because Catholics are more concerned with attendance than belief anyway. He says Catholics celebrate weird s—, like honoring St. Agatha who refused a man’s advances and had her breasts cut off. He also says religious people spend money on stupid s—, like a cross that the school had imported from Italy.

When the cross falls during installation, Adam says he thinks Jesus is trying to make a break for it. Adam went to church as a child and got all of the Catholic classes checked off because Mom knew it would make his grandmother happy. Now he says he’s more likely to buy healing crystals than go to church. His mom still makes the family “pretend” to be religious and go to Easter service.

Adam comments extensively about the formalities at his school, and he says the school reeks of shame. He mocks the ritual recitation of the Prayer of St. Augustine, the length of Catholic services, robes, communion, confession, the nuns’ discussions of chastity, praying before everything and the rule against mixed swimming. Adam criticizes a Catholic men’s organization called the Columbian Squires. He says they only stand for family values when the families look like theirs, and they are fond of quoting Leviticus.

Adam and Maya talk to each other during prayer time. They get away with it because Adam says mockingly that sometimes the Holy Spirit commands you to pray out loud. Overall, he’s convinced God has other stuff to do and doesn’t care about all of these things religious people are doing.

When Adam hears about the Sandy Hook shooting, he thinks God should have taken out the shooter before he killed those kids. Each class has to put on a play about the Stations of the Cross. Adam gets picked to play Jesus, an undesirable role because it requires more time and effort than the others.

When Adam is returning the cross and his costume to the storage shed, Maya meets him. They have their first sexual encounter on top of his Jesus costume, with Adam wearing his Jesus beard. He says he feels smug having had sex dressed as Jesus. When a bully gets in trouble, Adam and Maya call it karma.

Authority Roles

Adam’s dad left when he was 8. His loving mother worries about his condition and gets him into clinical trials. Paul, Mom’s attorney husband, is more of an ally than Adam initially realizes. He considers Adam a son and wants to support his treatment. Adam’s psychiatrist is patient with him and his refusal to speak during their sessions. The doctor shows genuine concern for Adam, especially as he’s being weaned off the drug.

Profanity & Violence

The Lord’s name is used in vain. Words such as the f-word, s—, d–n, sucks, b–tard, b–ch, a–, p—ed, douche, d–k, crap, balls, and h— also appear frequently.

Adam flips someone off. Also, there’s the mention of the shooting at Sandy Hook.

Sexual Content

Adam is a virgin at the start of the story. He meets Maya, and their relationship progresses, in detail, from first kiss to partially clothed, make-out sessions to intercourse. Adam admits he tests to see how far she’ll let him go sexually.

Their first sexual encounter happens in the school’s storage shed on top of Adam’s Jesus costume. Adam thinks giving Maya an orgasm was the best feeling of his life. Afterward, Maya frequently sneaks into his room at night. The text describes their touching and includes a variety of anatomical words and slang related to sexual experiences..

Paul leaves a box of condoms for Adam, even though Adam has already taken care of that himself. The therapist and drug testers ask questions about his sexual urges during the drug trial, and he writes everything in detail to his therapist. He mentions an old friend who read Playboy and smoked weed, and he rants about commercials for erectile disfunction. Adam says he is uncircumcised.

Discussion Topics

None.

Additional Comments

Suicide: The voices in Adam’s head sometimes try to convince him to kill himself. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Ian makes a veiled suggestion that Adam should kill himself.

Self-harm: Adam pulls at his cuticle until it bleeds profusely because he says the pain is satisfying. He likens it to a time he pulled out several baby teeth that weren’t even loose because the pain felt good. Adam stabs himself because he thinks he’s seen a snake and is trying to kill it.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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