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Med Head: My Knock-Down Drag-Out Drugged-Up Battle with My Brain

Review

Med Head: My Knock-Down Drag-Out Drugged-Up Battle with My Brain

MED HEAD, James Patterson and Hal Friedman's young adult version of the #1 New York Times bestseller AGAINST MEDICAL ADVICE, is about a boy's experiences growing up with the rare neurological disorder of Tourette's Syndrome with OCD. It's a private view of Cory Friedman's home and school life as told by Cory himself, from age five through his post-high school years.

Cory is five years old when his troubles begin. While playing a video game, he feels his first compulsion to jerk his neck. It is involuntary, caused by "miswiring of his brain," and is one of the many tics and physical and verbal compulsions his mind would present through the years. He calls these years "the battle against my mind," and his symptoms are embarrassing and physically debilitating at a young age. With his first trip to the doctor, Cory and his family start down a long road of suffering and worry that doesn't end until after his teenage years are over.

Through many years of treatment, Cory is put on handfuls of medications. The Friedmans meet numerous doctors, some of whom are helpful and others of whom are just insulting and harmful. His parents and sister, Jessie, try their best to support him through the physical and emotional stress, knowing there's only more of it to come. Love and family support are often not enough for Cory to feel happy, and he has to do without close friendships or outside understanding for years. All he wants is for the people around him to "get him," and one of the most difficult aspects of the situation is the Friedmans’ realization of Cory's daily embarrassment and social isolation from having a disease that no one understands or empathizes with.  

Because Cory's disorder is exacerbated by stress and anxiety, reactions he gets make things worse. Kids at school and teachers often treat him as if his disorder is contrived or controllable. He's frequently made fun of, and this makes his tics and compulsions more exaggerated. None of his treatments help much, and at some point, he begins thinking of himself as a "med head." He is on high-dose meds and often can't deal with the side effects, which range from intense agitation to more pronounced tics, to keeping him up at night and leaving him physically and emotionally exhausted. He gains weight and becomes clinically depressed on certain drugs. Yet somehow, with the support of his family, Cory gets through this. After years of hoping and wishing and wondering about a cure (or at least relief from symptoms), he discovers he's ready to call it quits with all drugs and experimental treatments.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, Cory finds that there's one thing he does feel better on: alcohol. He uses it to escape his unhappiness. At age 17, he has absolutely no idea what he's doing and no plans for the future, but his alcohol use is no joke. It goes way past common teenage partying to where he is passing out drunk at home --- a lot. Once his parents recognize the need to intervene, their next step is a risky one: they send him to a teenage wilderness camp in bitter-cold Wyoming, essentially forcing him to discover meaning in his life while surviving camping in ice and snow.  

With great, personal storytelling by bestselling author James Patterson as well as writer Hal Friedman (the boy's father), readers are presented with an honest view of what it's like to grow up with a rare neurological disorder. The story is based on Cory's memories and put together through interviews. And Cory is a kid who will win you over from the minute the story begins. In the moment he calls his mom "his angel" with the claim that she saved him, he had my vote! The Friedmans are amazing, never faltering in their love and support even while it had to be killing them to watch him go through all this. Yet it is Cory himself who finds the will to get past the anger of living with a debilitating illness and then surpass everyone's expectations of him. It's through his hard work that opportunities arise, and his accomplishments end up going beyond those of many who have had smaller hurdles to overcome.

MED HEAD is an inspirational story, and I agree with Patterson when he calls Cory a hero.

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Reviewed by Melanie Smith on October 18, 2011

Med Head: My Knock-Down Drag-Out Drugged-Up Battle with My Brain
by James Patterson

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2010
  • Genres: Memoir
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316076171
  • ISBN-13: 9780316076173