REVIEW: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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Title: History is All You Left Me
Author: Adam Silvera
Format: Paperback, 294 pages
Publication: January 17th 2017 by Soho Teen
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

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Synopsis

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart. If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

Review

In History is All You Left Me, Silvera delivers a surprisingly quiet, thoughtful exploration of friendship, grief, love, and loss.

The book alternates in story lines between ‘History’, where we see Griffin and Theo falling in love and transitioning from best friends to boyfriends, and ‘Today’, where we see Griffin navigating through a Theo-less world. As is the case with More Happy Than Not, the author does what he does best: writing everyday moments with a severe awareness of human connection. It doesn’t matter whether Griffin, Theo, and Wade are browsing the shelves of Barnes & Noble or they’re exchanging gifts or Griffin is talking to Theo’s family, it’s compelling and laced with pockets of emotion. The parents—and all the main characters have parents—are very much a part of the story, to boot, and I like how Silvera doesn’t pull away from the infinite paradoxes of familial love. Sometimes Griffin would adore and hate his parents in one page or he would be annoyed with his dad for being too cold to Jackson but at the same time be annoyed with his mom for being too nice to Jackson or how Mr. and Mrs. Jennings, his parents, only want what’s best for their son but also operate on their own definition of what’s best for him. We still do not often see parent involvement in YA, but I’m glad there are authors like Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli who are gradually taking down the barriers.

“He shrugs, which I know he doesn’t mean as a dismissal. He’s doing that thing I’ve done before where I try to shrink my own feelings, try to make my problems sound smaller to others because sometimes people just don’t get it.”

Two of the many important themes of the book are grief and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I am not personally familiar with the former. The closest to family I’ve lost is my uncle’s wife, and I was eight. But the empathy with which Silvera looks into grief is palpable. You follow Griffin and the messed up things he does and not once do you question if this is uncalled for or unlikely. He is hurt and grieving and confused and lost and seventeen, and this ultimately affects all the relationships he has around him. And then there’s the latter. This, I am not not personally familiar with. I have a self-diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)—yes, those two are different and not by the mere addition of ‘Personality’—and I commend how consistent and consistently woven in the narrative OCD is. It plays a big part in Griffin’s story without ever taking center stage. It isn’t an item the author checked off in his list for inclusivity; it is a constant struggle for the MC and this is reality for people dealing with this mental disorder.

“‘I’m ready,” I lied. I’m hungry, I’m drained, I’m over it all, and I’m not ready.”

However, perhaps my favorite element of the whole novel is the dialogues. I don’t exactly know how to classify Silvera’s writing style. It isn’t lyrical but it also isn’t just straight-cut contemporary; there’s something rhythmic about how he plays at words, a cadence poetic all its own. Here is a person with an utter sense of language. And this is evident with the exchanges between the characters, not just between Griffin and Theo, although those are my favourite scenes. Plus, did I mention this book is filled to the brim with nerdy and pop culture references? You don’t need to be a Star Wars fan or a Potterhead, if you’ve felt passionate about something or someone, you speak Griffin’s and Theo’s language. You speak nerd. Or fanboy. Or whatever you wish to call it.

““You’re not someone that just memorizes facts for exams and forgets them the next day. You don’t just have lucky guesses in pop quizzes. You bring textbooks with you into the shower. Basically, you’re a really weird superhero.”
He forces a smile. “One day, Batman is going to take off his mask and, boom, it’ll be me.””

Silvera’s sophomore novel is quieter than his debut but it is no less vivid and heartrending.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Adam Silvera 02

Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx. He has worked in the publishing industry as a children’s bookseller, at a literary development company, and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. His debut novel, More Happy Than Not, received multiple starred reviews and is a New York Times bestseller. He lives in New York City and is tall for no reason.

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REVIEW: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Fans of the Impossible Life 02

Title: Fans of the Impossible Life
Author: Kate Scelsa
Format: ARC, 356 pages
Publication: September 8th 2015 by Balzer + Bray/HarperTeen
Source: Gifted by the author (thank you so much Kate!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

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Synopsis

MIRA is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.

JEREMY is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting him.

SEBBY, Mira’s gay best friend, seems to carry sunlight around him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.

As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.

Review

I received a review copy from the author which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

As eloquent as it is heartfelt, Fans of the Impossible Life takes storytelling to a higher class and diversity higher still.

Let me be the first to say that this is a novel—if not the novel—champions of the We Need Diverse Books campaign should be talking about. Scelsa delivers a coming of age at once achingly moving and softly poetic told from the perspectives of her three MCs. Her play at different points of view is nothing short of adroit—Jeremy’s chapters are in first person, Sebby’s in second and Mira’s in third. And it totally works, both in function and aesthetic. It provides a window into the complexities of her characters, and boy are they complex.

“… you lay awake on that night’s floor thinking about what you could have said to them to make them understand. What it felt like to know that the two people who knew you best couldn’t ever really know what your life was like.”

The author also doesn’t shy away from the hard edges of her story. Fans of the Impossible Life covered many important issues without once feeling overwhelming nor romanticized. There’s drug abuse, identity crisis, depression, suicide, bullying, racism—you name it, it’s probably in here. And Scelsa approached these with insight and sensitivity. Just as much as she paid her secondary characters attention. I am particularly impressed by the fact that they have these stuff going on for them. Like, Talia is whatever, I’m incredibly furious at her for what she did in the end BUT she was the one who helped Jeremy through his catastrophic episode, who apologized to him for not speaking up. And there’s Julie, perfect Julie who doesn’t wanna deal with Mira’s drama BUT who shows up, not attending her lecture to be with her as soon as she comes home.

“I had been nothing before that moment and one day I would be nothing again. But there and then my life was real. With his lips, and his lovely mouth.”

Early this year, Malinda Lo wrote an essay on perceptions of diversity in book reviews—in fact it’s just one in a four-part series which you need to read if you care about diversity. In it, she cited a critique that blatantly pronounced ““perfectly ethnically and sexually diverse” cast as “scarcely plausible,”” a suggestion that “this diversity would not have existed naturally; it needed effort.” Okay. Not only do I call total BS on this problematic trade review, I have Fans of the Impossible Life to reinforce my claim. Scelsa’s debut has multiple POC characters and characters representing three (3!) different orientations from the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. But what’s really remarkable is the ease with which the author handled sexual and racial diversity. It doesn’t just look at individual experiences, it’s reflected in the family structures of her main players. One of the leads has two gay dads. Another has interracial parents. They get loads of crap for this and I’m thinking, that’s reality. It feels natural because this happens today, no matter how much we long for the contrary.

“At that point she was keeping the crying hidden. When it first started, she let people see it because she didn’t know what else to do. She thought if they could witness her in the middle of this thing, then they might be able to understand. But they couldn’t. It was exhausting for others to watch. For herself to experience. So she stopped showing them.”

I’m not you, but if I were, I’d be a fan of Fans of the Impossible Life too.

4.5 out of 5

Author

Kate Scelsa

Kate Scelsa has performed in New York and around the world with experimental theater company Elevator Repair Service in their trilogy of works based on great American literature, including an eight-hour-long performance that uses the entire text of The Great Gatsby. Kate lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two black cats.

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Blogger’s note: I buddy-read this book with Wesaun @ Oreo and Books and it is SO GOOD we both finished it in a 24-hour time frame.

Is this on your TBR list? If not, have I convinced you to include it? (Because, really, you definitely should check this out.) Do you think there are such works with “too much issues” or “too diverse”? And what about you, what was the last awesome book you read that celebrates diversity? Or just any solid 5-star read. Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

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Title: Mosquitoland
Author: David Arnold
Format: Hardcover, 342 pages
Publication: March 3rd 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Source: Gifted by my childhood best friend (thank you Treena!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, Road Trip, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

Review

Debut author David Arnold tells a vibrant narrative in Mosquitoland. You would want to meet Mim and the caboodle of cast she befriends (or not) in this surprisingly funny, poignant and ultimately heartwarming multicolored road trip.

Mary Iris “Mim” Malone is not okay. Mom and Dad divorced and now Stepmom is in the picture. She is resituated a thousand miles away from Mom and home and it doesn’t help that Dad wants her to take medication after an unclear psychiatric diagnosis. Worse still is overhearing Mom is sick. So, in a bout of mutiny and daughterly affection, she accepts her mission as a “Mother-effing Mother-Saver” and runs away, equipped with wits, cynicism, war paint, a journal and eight hundred eighty dollars. Here’s the thing: I think there’s only one Mim in all of literature. This is very clear from page 1, first sentence—which is saying something, heck, probably the somethingest of Somethings. She’s erratic but not in any means tacky or supererogatory; it’s organic. Her voice sounds natural, her odyssey equal parts heartrending and heartening. But Mim, like every 16-year-olds before her, is not exempt to Myopic Faultiness, “wearing near-sighted glasses in a far-sighted world.” And this is where the greatest triumph of Mosquitoland lies in. Mim is prone to getting caught up inside her head but there’s also growth, juxtaposed with her quest to reach and save her mom. Her physical journey is as captivating as her emotional one is touching.

“Every great character, Iz, be it on page or screen, is multidimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldn’t exist at all. Remember this when I describe the antics that follow, for though I am not a villain, I am not immune to villainy.”

The novel delves into important subjects like depression and family and trust issue but because the humor is so on point, it doesn’t read as heavy. Mim is all about the wry and you have to hand it to the author for the effortless execution. And, although it has a pretty slow outset, it is never dragging. There are references to pop culture here and there, too, which is sure to click with readers and just, the guy described a smile using Belgian waffle. A Belgian waffle smile. Five hundred awesome points!

I don’t care, man. I’ve faked yawned, slow blinked, loud sighed, and pretend searched. I considered murdering you, as well as a variety of suicides. Now I’m going to put this in a way I know you’ll understand: you stole my friend’s seat, and I’d rather die than listen to you speak.”

I adore David’s writing style. It’s very contemporary but has a poetic undertone. He has a way at picking thoughts you never considered others have as well. Like, okay, since Tommy Wallach is obviously more eloquent than me, I’ll let him take the mic: “the best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world.” The only way this novel could’ve been better is if the author went deeper into Mim’s diagnosis.

“But now I know the truth. You can laugh and cry, Iz. Because they’re basically the same thing.”

The best element of this work, however, for me at least, is the exceptionally unforgettable band of characters. There’s Mim’s dysfunctional family, a no-bullshit old woman, an adorable-charming-endearing kid with Down syndrome, a 20-something photographer with his faults and possibly “the God of Devastating Attractiveness,” a schizophrenic vagrant and many, many more. He explores love and chosen family in a beautiful light that you often feel two or three emotions at once. And, you know, I love that each of these characters has a story to tell, like, if the author decided to switch narrators, it’ll be just as fascinating.

“You spend your life roaming the hillsides, scouring the four corners of the earth, searching desperately for just the one person to fucking get you. And I’m thinking, if you can find that, you’ve found home.”

David makes an impression with his debut and it’s this: he knows what he’s doing. And in a true Mim fashion, a montage rolls through my head, in it, I see Mosquitoland being read in class. An instant classic.

4.0 out of 5

Author

David Arnold

David Arnold lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his (lovely) wife and (boisterous) son. Previous jobs include freelance musician/producer, stay-at-home dad, and preschool teacher. He is a fierce believer in the power of kindness and community. And chips. He believes fiercely in chips. Mosquitoland is his first novel.

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Have you read this book already? No? Have I convinced you to pick it up? Who are the most unforgettable voices in your list? Also, what are some of your favorite road trip titles? Or, just, what was the last amazing book you read? Gimme your recs!

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

REVIEW: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Title: Vanishing Girls
Author: Lauren Oliver
Format: Paperback, 357 pages
Publication: March 10th 2015 by HarperCollins
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Crime, Psychological Thriller, Realistic, Suspense
Other classifications: Brotherhood/SisterhoodDepression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

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Synopsis

This is it: somehow, in these pictures, the mystery of the accident is contained, and the explanation for Dara’s subsequent behavior, for the silences and disappearances.

Don’t ask me how I know. I just do. If you don’t understand that, I guess you’ve never had a sister.

Review

The twist Vanishing Girls is less a crime novel, more a character study. And trust me when I say that that is for the better.

The twist Do you have a sibling? Have you ever felt the compulsion to never ever disappoint your parents because, no matter what you do, no matter how you act, no matter how much you love your sibling, you’ll always, always be compared to the other? It doesn’t matter what your position is, you’ll have this tacit rule of being the one to understand. Sometimes this builds a camaraderie, the kind that brings you to watch each other’s back, to want to protect each other’s secrets. But in most cases, this also creates a quiet, inner tension, the kind that cultivates unspoken jealousy and raises self-imposed responsibilities and expectations. This is at the heart of the Panic author’s latest novel.

“They say that you’re supposed to tell the truth. Dr. Lichme says that, anyway.
But don’t they also say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you?”

The twist Vanishing Girls is my first Lauren Oliver title and, admittedly, while it was rewarding, it didn’t make me want to devour her backlist. It took some time for the narrative to gain its footing and, even then, the thread seems to ebb and flow. Her style boarders from lyrical to maybe overly descriptive and I can see how this might come across as dragging for some. But it is one of those books where if you give up early on, you’d totally miss the gem. One of those where the more you ponder about it, the more you sit on it, the more the ingenuity of it washes over you. She commands her words, I soon found out. They are vivid, cutting and have a way of reaching deep inside you, tapping into thoughts you unconsciously carry around.

You broke my heart. I fell for you, and you broke my heart. Period, done, end of story.

The twist The story is narrated alternately by Warren sisters Nick and Dara and there are diary entries, online articles, e-mails and photographs—most of which are often eery—interspersed through out. It pre-opens with a life observation that impeccably captures the tone of the book. Then it opens officially right at the conflict, the night of the accident. Chapter 2 jumps four months later and we see a recovering Nick, the elder of the two, and the sister who refuses to talk to her, Dara. What instantly stuck out to me is how distinct and at the same time cognate Nick’s and Dara’s voices are, a manifestation of the author’s adept sense of what it’s like to have a sister and be a sister. People casually throw around the term “complex characters” but, with Nick and Dara, you’ll have a flash of instant clarity: this is what they mean with complex characters. It’s chilling and heartrending and impressive and there were instances I had to look over my shoulders.

“Sometimes people stop loving you. And that’s the kind of darkness that never gets fixed, no matter how many moons rise again, filling the sky with a weak approximation of light.”

The twist However, I think the way this book is pitched is misleading. Sure, the “vanishing girls” plot line meshes well with the family drama, but they sell this as the former when in fact it’s the other way around. The whole Madeline Snow arc felt quite removed; it’s really about the relationship between Nick and Dara. And Parker. If you’ve ever had best friends or still do, real close friendship, you’ll know that the author gets it. And Vanishing Girls wins the chicest cover award. Fantastic job, Anastasia Volkova and Erin Fitzsimmons!

“”It’ll be just like old times,” Parker says, and I feel a hard ache in my chest, a desperate desire for something lost long ago.
Everyone knows you can’t go back.”

The twist. Yes, no scratching now. Oliver must’ve rewrote and proofread her work a bajillion times because there is just no plot holes. She pulled off the reveal like it’s nobody’s business. I mean, I basically revisited a handful of chapters after she dropped the bomb. (And in case you’re wondering, I reread 70% of the book since finishing.) I don’t think I’ve read anything like this before but a close similar experience would be Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, in that both have a major WTF moment. And hell was it WTF. But this is where it becomes tricky. Because there’s no way talking around THE TWIST; I would give away too much. So just go out there, read this novel, come back to me and I can go all WHAT DID I TELL YOU? on you.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is the author of the teen novels Before I Fall and Panic and the Delirium trilogy: Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem, which have been translated into more than thirty languages and are New York Times and international bestselling novels. She is also the author of two novels for middle grade readers, The Spindlers and Liesl & Po, which was an E. B. White Read Aloud Award nominee. Lauren’s novel Panic has been optioned for film by Universal Studios. A graduate of the University of Chicago and NYU’s MFA program, Lauren Oliver is also the cofounder of the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern Lit.

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Blogger’s note: I buddy-read this book with Dianne @ Oops! I Read A Book Again, exchanging “WTF was that?!!!” one too many times. You can check out her review HERE.

Now tell me: are you excited to pick this title up? Or if you’ve read it already, have you predicted the twist? Where should I go from here in the Lauren Oliver landscape? Do you like literary crime novels? What are some of your favorites? Also, do you buddy-read with your friends/co-bloggers? Tell me all about it!

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Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who have Depression and/or Mental Illness

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish in which book bloggers list their top ten picks for whatever the current prompt is.

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Lately, I noticed I am gravitating towards novels with a focus on mental health. In fact, just this quarter, I’ve read five. Yes, there is something appealing to this type of books. No, I am not demented. Because I do not enjoy the struggle and suffering. These are glass shards in the palm, multiple blows in the gut. But I take them. And I’m better for it. As these stories help me get out of the proverbial shoes. They help me understand. They help me empathize. They help me through my own dark tunnels.

So for today, I compiled a list of books that center on depression and/or mental illness. Incidentally, this is my first Top Ten Tuesday too.

 More Than This 02   The Perks of Being a Wallflower   Playlist for the Dead 01

More Than This by Patrick Ness
Seth Wearing’s depression pushed him to drown himself (this isn’t really a spoiler; read the synopsis). The point is finding out what led to this. What you get is a heartrending portrayal of a teen trying to keep it together. Until he no longer can.
Bonus: This one is weird. So if you’re into that.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
TPOBAW is easily one of my favoritest. Here’s my pitch: if you are—or once were—a teenager, you’ll like, if not love, this. But here’s another thing, it also deals with suicide, guilt and repressed memories.
Bonus: Logan Lerman did a pitch-perfect portrayal of Charlie in the film adaptation. Basically, the whole movie is AMAZING.

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff
Sam Goldsmith wakes up one day with his best friend Hayden not breathing—not even snoring, which he normally does. And all he left is a playlist with a suicide note that says, “For Sam—listen and you’ll understand.” Falkoff paints a vivid picture of how even best friends can be strangers to one another.
Bonus: The chapter titles are actual songs from the playlist and this is an experience on its own.

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley 01   My Heart and Other Black Holes 01   All the Bright Places 02

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun Hutchinson
This one’s a recent read and I’m grateful I saw it up on Pulse It’s Free Reads last week. I said this before and I’ll say it again: I seldom cry for both books and films. But The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley got me breaking my rules. Hutchinson’s depiction of loss and guilt can only be described as “raw.”
Bonus: “It’s a partly graphic novel.”

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
We often see or read about after the suicide, where characters deal with or try to understand why a loved one did it. Now Aysel Seran and Roman Fraklin, aka Frozenrobot, here are on the planning-our-suicide phase. The takeaway? Warga doesn’t romanticize depression. No.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
I don’t even know how to begin with this novel. It’s about mental illness and PTSD and guilt (do you see the trend in my list?) and there’s really no way of talking about Niven’s YA debut without being spoilery, but this much I’ll tell you: every so often we walk away from a story which we’ll always think of, All the Bright Places is one of those stories.
Bonus: For when wry humor is your thing.

The next four titles are ones I’ve yet to read. Hey now.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye 01   Love Letters to the Dead 01   Challenger Deep 01   Mosquitoland

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand
Lex’s brother Tyler killed himself and she has to cope up with loss and guilt. Kirkus calls it, “evocative and insightful.”

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
May, Laurel’s sister, is dead. But how can she mourn when she hasn’t forgiven her? Here, from Guardian: “This book does make you go slightly down at points, because it reaches into you and pulls about at your emotions, so if you like happy-go-lucky books, a lot of this might not be for you. But if you can handle some tear-jerking bits in books, then this book should be on your ‘to-read’ list.”

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
It follows Caden Bosch on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench. Also, Caden Bosch is schizophrenic. Publishers Weekly gave this novel a starred review, stating, “[Caden’s] story doesn’t necessarily represent a “typical” experience of mental illness, it turns symptoms into lived reality in ways readers won’t easily forget.”

Mosquitoland by David Arnold
“I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange.” Mim is certainly not okay; she has a mental illness. So does her mom. School Library Journal praised it with: “Debut author Arnold’s book is filled with some incredible moments of insight. The protagonist is a hard-edged narrator with a distinct voice.”

Let’s talk! Which of these have you read? Any title(s) you’ll add to the list? What is the theme of your list? And, PLEASE, if you know or suspect someone to be undergoing depression or is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, PLEASE PLEASE REACH OUT TO THEM. THERE’S HELP AND WE HAVE TO BE THAT HELP OR AT LEAST THE BRIDGE.

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

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REVIEW: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places

Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Format: Paperback, 388 pages
Publication: January 6th 2015 by Knopf/Random House Children’s Books
Source: Bought from Fully Booked
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: Bullying, Depression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might die, but every day he also searches for—and manages to find—something to keep him here, and alive, and awake.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school—six stories above the ground—it’s unclear who saves whom. And when the unlikely pair teams up on a class project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, they go, as Finch says, where the road takes them: the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising—just like life.

Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a bold, funny, live-out-loud guy, who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet forgets to count away the days and starts living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

Review

I want to begin by clearing the air: I have very conflicting feelings about this book, in that I love parts of it, and others not so much. Also, this is going to be—and it is—a lengthy article. So if you’re not exactly up to that, you can read the next paragraph and just jump straight to the second-to-the-last one.

All the Bright Places is a thoughtful, provocative tale about mental illness and teenagers, speckled with bons mots. And though it has off-putting turns, it is poignant all the same. Niven has written people. Not just mere characters but actual people, with actual emotions, actual stories, actual battles. So painfully real it left me in a trance after closing the last page.

“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other recognizable disease just to make it simple for me and also for them. Anything would be better than the truth.”

The novel switches between perspectives from Finch and Violet. And if you do anything, do not attempt to find out what Finch’s problem is before diving in. I made this mistake (I didn’t research; I was listening to a podcast and bam!) and it marked a substantial difference. Because I imagine it would’ve been more excruciatingly gripping to guess what’s the matter with him. See, Theodore Finch is interesting. He’s compulsive and at times reckless but funny and endearing, to boot. He slips into momentary pretentiousness but that only renders him more charming. Early on, it’s apparent there’s something amiss. And with each passing chapter, the tension only accumulates. I’ve often hear people describe a character as someone who “jumps off the page/screen” and this is a spot-on description for Theodore Finch. Then there’s Violet Markey who—this is not a spoiler—suffers from PTSD. She’s using her sister’s death as a wall around her. I’ve read quite a few books about depression to gather that while for outsiders it looks easy—get out more, talk to someone, get over yourself—it’s really hard to move past the black slug (as Jasmine Warga’s Aysel puts it). And this is the main thing about Violet; she acknowledges the world outside her wall but she’s waist-deep the black slug.

WorthlessStupid. These are the words I grew up hearing. They’re the words I try to outrun, because if I let them in, they might stay there and grow and fill me up and in, until the only thing left of me is worthless stupid worthless stupid worthless stupid freak. And then there’s nothing to do but run harder and fill myself with other words: This time will be different. This time, I will stay awake.”

Another thing that sets All the Bright Places apart is the nuanced backstories. The bad guy isn’t just a bad guy and the good guy isn’t just a good guy. Plus, the parents are present. There’s something to be said of parental roles in young adult fiction and Niven captures the two sides of the spectrum with an informed tone. There is this one harrowing scene, which I hope no one has to experience ever, that sent a sick punch in my guts. And then you get to the author’s note and it’s a whole new level of visceral reaction.

“The smile I give her is the best smile I have, the one that makes my mother forgive me for staying out too late or for just generally being weird.”

I have issues with the romance department. And I don’t want to be the guy who argues that love isn’t necessary in this one but I’m gonna be that guy. Because and especially because it has a beginning I do not buy. It felt like it was somehow forced coming from Finch’s viewpoint. I also think the later parts drag. Of course I want closure but I think it still could’ve been achieved a few pages shorter. Albeit, I’m being highly subjective in here. I’m not saying Niven did wrong. It’s her novel. It’s Finch and Violet’s story. The author has every right.

“”She was my best friend.”
“I’ve never had one. What’s it like?”
“I don’t know. I guess you can be yourself, whatever that means—the best and the worst of you. And they love you anyway. You can fight, but even when you’re mad at them, you know they’re not going to stop being your friend.””

For fans of John Green (yes, the blurb got this one right) and Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes, you want to read this one. All the Bright Places does a great service to this ever shifting and vibrant community by talking about a topic that most people would much rather prefer not to talk about and it’s for this reason that I’m grateful Jennifer Niven had her YA debut.

Fun fact: I never, for once, read before how one’s handwriting is characterized like “chicken scratch.” And yet, this is thrown around inexhaustibly when I was growing up. So there’s that.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven’s first book for young adult readers, but she has written four novels for adults—American BlondeBecoming ClementineVelva Jean Learns to Fly, and Velva Jean Learns to Drive—as well as three nonfiction books, The Ice MasterAda Blackjack, and The Aqua Net Diaries, a memoir about her high school experiences. Although she grew up in Indiana, she now lives with her fiancé and literary cats in Los Angeles, which remains her favorite place to wander.

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Have you read All the Bright Places? If not, did I convince you to pick it up? I’m curious: have you noticed the recent rise, in YA specifically, in books dealing with depression and mental illness? And do you have recommendations up your sleeve regarding this? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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REVIEW: More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than This

Title: More Than This
Author: Patrick Ness
Format: Paperback, 480 pages
Publication: May 1st 2014 by Walker Books Ltd (first published September 10th 2013)
Source: Bought from Fully Booked
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Other classifications: Bullying, Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIA, Weird, Young Adult

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Synopsis

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.

Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.

How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?

As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

Review

I’ve never quite read anything like More Than This in a long time, if I ever read one to begin with. It’s powerfully tense and the writing is spot-on, hitting the marks in places meditative and in others deeply affecting. It continuously flips everything on its head, like, at one point, you’d think, okay that was all of the cards right? But no, Ness hacks the chair off and—bam!—you’re back to square one figuring out—with the main character—what everything means. And all this in a backdrop of family dysfunction, youthful impulse and longing, acceptance and big life questions.

“No, life didn’t always go how you thought it might.
Sometimes it didn’t make any sense at all.”

The pacing is impeccable—teasing in a way that keeps the reader engaged all the time but that is also efficient as to not be frustrating. Reading More Than This feels to me like walking in a dark tunnel, when you can just see the light seeping through a door, quite far away, quite within reach. It’s gripping through and through. There’s even this particular chapter so jarring and visceral it kept me on the edge of my seat. Literally. Ness really captures the sense of helplessness in such a palpable state it’s unsettling.

“Haven’t you ever felt like there has to be more? Like there’s more out there somewhere, just beyond your grasp, if you could only get to it…”

Now let’s talk about the characters. This isn’t my first Patrick Ness book; The Knife of Never Letting Go is. But it is a tremendously different experience for me. I don’t think I’d make the connection between the two if I didn’t know the same person wrote them. More Than This is loaded with well-written characters. Seth, the MC, is someone I identify with. He’s got issues with his family, is skeptical about things but he’s willing to risk it to be happy, to be more. Then there’s Regine with her scars and whose grittiness and own sense of humor add texture to the story. Tomasz who is at once adorable and a punch to that very word. Owen and Seth’s parents with their flaws and drama. And the whole cast of secondary characters with their moving turns. If you’ve been tuning in for a while—back from the Tumblr days—you’d be familiar that I don’t usually cry in books (and films). I get moved and teary-eyed and all that stuff, yes, but actual crying is seldom. This book, however, made me shed tears in one father-and-son scene and got me teary-eyed here and there.

“People break, I guess. Everyone.”

I picked up this title because John Green’s blurb goes “Just read it.” And today, I tell you the same.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is the author of the bestselling and critically-acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy and the prize-winning novel A Monster Calls. He has won every major prize in children’s fiction, including the Carnegie Medal twice. He lives in London.

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