Juliet the Maniac by Juliet Escoria review – a sharp representation of fraught adolescence

Everyone’s teenage years are weird and fraught. They just are. Even if you are, in general, quite a quote-unquote normal person, you are going to become an actual lunatic between the ages of 12 and 20. There is nothing that can be done to mitigate this. You just have to ride it out. But what happens when your young mind is genuinely unravelling?

In Juliet the Maniac, Juliet Escoria recounts a fictionalised adolescence spent caught in the cycles of bipolar disorder. Beginning ‘the year the rock star shot himself’, Juliet goes from being an honour student in San Diego to being consigned to a ‘therapeutic boarding school’ for teens with mental health and addiction issues in the Pacific Northwest. Told in short chapters interspersed with patient logs, medication lists, and letters from the future, Juliet the Maniac is a fragmented document of prescriptions and pills, intimate friendships and crises.  

While this is neither a before-and-after from-addiction-to-recovery story, nor ‘inspiration porn’, brief asides from the 30-something version of Juliet bring the benefit of hindsight to Juliet the Maniac. As an adult Juliet can try to forgive her teenaged self her trespasses – real and imagined – while also offsetting the inherently unreliable narration of the younger voice.  Both voices are fresh, sharp, making the novel keenly observed and acutely felt.

Unsurprisingly, Juliet the Maniac is already seeing glowing reviews:

“Juliet Escoria has created a propulsive, addictive story… told with a singular honesty; it can feel brutal – it burns – but it’s also illuminating, and a necessary counterpoint to all those teenage stories that marginalize the girl we actually want to read about.”- Nylon

“[An] exciting first novel… Juliet the Maniac is one of those coming-of-age stories that will feel so darn personal, you’ll wonder if Escoria had a secret recording device in your own teenage heart.”- Bustle

“An author to watch”- Michael Schaub at LA Times

Juliet the Maniac is a late-nineties Bell Jar, GirlInterrupted in gloomy sunny Southern California, an autofiction from a former reform-school pirate princess. Teenage girls forever (and other people who exist, too): Read this book.”- Katherine Faw, author of Ultraluminous

“Writing about emotional turmoil and addiction with a sharp, charged eloquence, Juliet Escoria… is an up-and-coming author.”- The A.V. Club

“Achingly accurate language, stripped down but beautiful, makes this story fresh and forthright.”- Library Journal

“Searing… reminiscent of Eve Babitz’s work… Escoria’s novel is a moving and intimate portrait of girlhood and mental illness.” – Publishers Weekly

Juliet the Maniac is available now from Melville House.
(9781612197593, p/b, £12.99)

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