Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Social Issues in Sykosa.


In writing Sykosa, I knew I wanted a story that, for lack of a proper way to phrase it, peeled itself like an orange. So that its outside appeared rather ordinary, but upon examination, the reader comes to view the story as being not what s/he first suspected it of being. A review of Sykosa at Libby’s Book Blog (http://libbysbookblog.blogspot.com/...ee-for-now.html), stated it better than I currently am.

I start reading Sykosa, and at first, I just think its this nice little book about this nice little Japanese-American girl sitting in class at this nice little school thinking about painting her fingernails. Seriously - that is how the book starts,” followed by, “And, then... And, then author Justin Ordonez, starts dropping subtle hints that something is wrong. Something happened to Sykosa - but, what? This book really snuck up on me. Because during the time that I was reading it, I would find myself thinking about it when I was driving or doing other things. I would be mulling it over, trying to put the pieces together.

During Sykosa, we first get the overview of Sykosa, her friends, her parochial school, her parents, her boyfriend Tom, and that they were all involved in a mysterious incident that happened “last year.” As we progress, we come to see that the construction of Sykosa’s world is no incident. It’s been derived by sets of values and the various institutions who propegate those values. In such, the social construct of Sykosa’s life is a driving factor in the novel’s events. 
First and foremost is probably race.

High schools are places of intense racial segregation, and I mean this beyond its obvious manifestations. Sure, black kids tend to sit with black kids, white kids with white kids, and Asian kids with Asian kids, but the issues of race go far deeper. Legal battles for equal education opportunity in America are part of everyday history classes—from “separate but equal,” to Brown vs Board of Education, to inter-district busing, to white flight, to vouchers, the American education system is a good measure of how racially equal we are as a country. This pretains to Sykosa as she is a Japanese-America women who attends a mostly white school in an affluent part of Washington. At her school, there’re a large amount of white kids, a few packs of Asian kids, and very few black kids. This dynamic has created an unspoken superiority for the white kids. (It’d be hard to create an atmopshere where this wasn’t true—they’re 90+% of the school. It’s almost unnatural for a superioty-complex not to emerge). For years, this balance was uninterrupted, but that changes during Sykosa’s sophomore year when Niko, Sykosa’s best friend, attempts to oust the social establishment, a group of white girls known as the “Bitches.”

I want to avoid spoilers, so the general takeaway is that an undercurrent of racism becomes fueled when Niko and another girl named Donna, leader of the Bitches, being to squabble. It leads to a tragic event endagering Sykosa’s life and leaves her permanently affected. During the tragic event, she was saved from danger by a boy named Tom, and he was physically injured in doing so.

For these part, the novel discusses the mental aspects driving Sykosa over the societal aspects. Sykosa was always sort of a moody, introverted personality, which is not the majority personality for a female, and probably explains why certain women don’t like Sykosa as a person. (Though, it explains how Sykosa and Niko, a type-A dominator, have kept such a close friendship). Yet, while Sykosa’s is not the majority personality type for a woman, hers is not uncommon. Where Sykosa is most conventionally female is how, for most of her life, she has expierenced bouts of depression. (Women expierence depression 50% more frequently than men, and something like 90% of women expierence one long bout of it in their lives). Sykosa’s poor management of her moods and her anxiety tranforms into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following the events of “last year.” PTSD is characterized by either continually re-imaginaing the traumatic event or feeling numb to it and, by extension, the totality of life. Either way, the traumatic event is predominate in a victim’s thoughts and actions. 

This condition is a source of frustration and shame for Sykosa. Her community, as well her friends and family, wants to move past “last year,” yet she cannot let it go, nor can she stop herself from fearing its second occurance. In short, she’s lost her trust in the institutions she thought would protect her, and now she is uncertain what to feel or think.

Sykosa, Part I: Junior Year establishes these two concepts in simultanity, each working in the background of her life and her decisions. In that way, it’s a very human book. There’re no superheros to save these characters from themselves. This is because, unfortuantely, there’re no innocent characters in Sykosa. Everyone is guilty. That is partially what Libby refers to when she says, “I would be mulling it over, trying to put the pieces together.” In Part I, the reader sees how institutional racism, Niko’s ambition, Sykosa’s mental illness, Tom’s sexism, and the school’s isolationist politices lead to rape, addiction, and assault, yet the reader cannot fully figure out what happened, “last year,” since the characters themselves cannot figure it out. None of the ideological constructs (religious, political or philosphical) are answering the question of “why.” They only offer a refuge, a place to explain away what happened, a mechanism for blame, which allows for the superficial sensation of justice.

For anyone who is interested in these aspects, or you’ve expierenced or known someone who suffered of mental illness, Sykosa will probably be a reading expierence that rings true. Certainly, for a reader interested in a decisive plot developing alongside the story itself, Sykosa is definitely be a book that meets the mental puzzle you’re seeking out.

Hey! Justin Ordoñez wrote a book called Sykosa. It’s about a sixteen year old girl who’s trying to reclaim her identity after an act of violence destroys her life and the lives of her friends. You can find out more about Justin at his blog, http://sykosa.wordpress.com. You can also find Sykosa, the novel on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007N709IG/

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