In THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN, Natalie struggles with hallucinations and suddenly starts seeing ghosts when she's chosen to play Titania in her schools rendition of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
What intrigued me: I've read the first companion novel DREAMING OF ANTIGONE and was curious to see more of Bridges.
Character-driven coming-of-age story
THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN is a companion to DREAMING OF ANTIGONE, featuring some characters you might recognize, but it's by no means necessary to have read the latter. Both novels are coming-of-age stories that feature chronically/mentally ill protagonists and are essentially retellings of Antigone and A Midsummer Night's Dream respectively.
THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN surprised me by being a lot more hands on and to-the-point than DREAMING OF ANTIGONE. I quickly grew very invested in Natalie's story and was very intrigued by the paranormal (? or not ?) sub plot. Brigdes cleverly intertwines Natalie's mental illness with the past-tense story though I found the novel a little too slow at times. The plot doesn't advance as quickly as I would've liked and aside from the premise, there is sadly not much to THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN. It's purely a character-driven coming-of-age story and you certainly do have to have a soft spot for that to enjoy this. Personally, I'm not a fan.
Belittling mental illness?
I loved Natalie dearly and grew fond of almost all the supporting characters, which ultimately warrants my interest in this story and had me stick around until the end. Without Natalie's entertaining voice and narration I wouldn't have finished this. The truth is, there are a couple things that are problematic about THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN. Love interest Luke is/was suicidal and depressed and has been at rehabilitation facility with protagonist Natalie (who`s been treated there for her hallucinations).
At no point do both these illnesses feel genuine, realistic, or even just well-researched. Luke is one of those generic mysterious love interests whose depression is belittled, paraphrased: "he doesn't look like he's depressed". Natalie's hallucinations are shrugged off and merely a gimmick to give this novel at least some kind of plot with them searching for ghosts in the theatre.
It just irked me, though I love that Bridges tries to tackle mental illness in many forms (Natalie's grandmother also suffers from schizophrenia), the lack of research is blatantly obvious. THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN is spiked with microaggressions and slurs that may not be as obvious to a neurotypical reader. Despite all that, there's no story to begin with.
Overall: Do I Recommend?I certainly liked THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN more than DREAMING OF ANTIGONE, but because mental illness isn't handled very respectfully and the novel overall lacks direction and plot, I wasn't really a fan. The high rating is mostly warranted by the great voice and characters, and trying to include neurodivergent characters.
Genre: YA / Contemporary
"Natalie Roman isn’t much for the spotlight. But performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a stately old theatre in Savannah, Georgia, beats sitting alone replaying mistakes made in Athens. Fairy queens and magic on stage, maybe a few scary stories backstage. And no one in the cast knows her backstory.
Except for Lucas—he was in the psych ward, too. He won’t even meet her eye. But Nat doesn’t need him. She’s making friends with girls, girls who like horror movies and Ouija boards, who can hide their liquor in Coke bottles and laugh at the theater’s ghosts. Natalie can keep up. She can adapt. And if she skips her meds once or twice so they don’t interfere with her partying, it won’t be a problem. She just needs to keep her wits about her."(Source: Goodreads)