Friday, April 17, 2015

Young Adult Fiction: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

I first took notice of today's book when it started showing up around Goodreads as a book to be excited about in 2015. Before it officially became available, people were already raving about Jasmine Warga's My Heart and Other Black Holes. But when I read the synopsis and realized what this book was about, I hesitated. In its simplest form, the book is about a pair of teenagers who have made a suicide pact. Not only is that a heavy topic to read about, but the author could either handle it well, or poorly. However, given the generally positive reactions the book had already gained, I decided to take a chance and go for it.

The Situation: Aysel Seran wants to die. A deep depression has taken over her life and she is ready to be done with her miserable existence. She can occasionally remember moments when things weren't so bad, when she was actually happy, but when her father committed a terrible crime that shook the entire town of Langston, Kentucky, Aysel's entire life changed. Instead of living with her dad during the week and only visiting her mom and her new family on the weekends, Aysel now lives in her stepdad's house and shares a room with a half-sister she feels she has nothing in common with. She feels like her family wishes she wasn't around, and the kids at school don't talk to her, although they clearly talk about her. Add in a miserable job with the isolation at school, and being avoided at home, and Aysel is done with living.

The Problem: Aysel wants to die, but she doesn't think she has the courage to go through with it, not by herself. So when she finds a partner in Roman through a website that specializes in pairing people together who want to commit suicide, it looks like she may actually be able to do this. Roman is even more determined to die than Aysel. After living with the guilt from a terrible tragedy for nearly a year, Roman wants a partner who will jump in the Ohio River with him. He is both terrified of not being able to do it because his worrying mother rarely lets him out of her sight, and that Aysel will flake out on him. And while Aysel and Roman get to know each other and make their plans, Aysel starts to wonder if she can go through with it. And if she can't, how can she convince Roman to back out as well?

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that focuses on two teenagers who have decided to kill themselves, but for different reasons. Aysel (pronounced like "gazelle") is the narrator of the story. As a young Turkish girl in small-town Kentucky, it is safe to say that she never really felt like she fit in. She was never incredibly popular or anything close, although once upon a time she did have friends. But when her dad committed a terrible crime, Aysel pushed away anyone who hadn't distanced themselves willingly. With the story being told from her point of view, the reader gets her constant assurances that people don't like her (and maybe they don't), that people are talking about her (and maybe they are), and that her family doesn't want her around (although she is pretty good at pushing them away). But even with only her perspective to go on, it is clear that things aren't quite as dark as Aysel wants to believe. And the title of the novel comes from Aysel's favorite subject in school: physics. She feels like her heart has collapsed in on itself, threatening to take the rest of her with it. While Aysel feels like her depression is eating her from the inside out, Roman feels the same about his guilt over his sister's death. Unlike Aysel, Roman used to be, and still is, quite popular. But even this continued popularity and support doesn't keep him from wanting to end his life.

My Verdict: There are parts of this book where Aysel's sadness, and sometimes Roman's as well, could be felt from the page. The title of the book could not be more perfect, as I often felt like my own heart was incredibly heavy with Aysel's sadness and loneliness. And the character of Roman genuinely made me nervous because he is so insistent on going through with something that many people couldn't imagine making real plans for. Warga doesn't treat the subject lightly, and she doesn't make fun of it or skirt around the issue. This is a book about two broken people who are tired of being broken. It is heavy, it is often dark, and it is incredibly sad and heartbreaking. But the topic was treated with the honesty it deserves, even if that means the book was sometimes painful to read. With that being said, the book also isn't sad and depressing just for the sake of being sad and depressing. And I honestly wasn't ready for it to end when it did. I wanted it to go on and tell me more. So I guess it wasn't too painful if I wanted it to continue.

Favorite Moment: Any moment when Aysel was able to see how her family really feels about her.

Favorite Character: This was actually pretty tough for me to choose, but I finally landed on Aysel. She is hurting, and her decisions are a result of being tired of being in constant emotional pain. While that isn't exactly fun to read about, I didn't feel like Aysel was playing the victim. The reader gets access to the thoughts she refused to express to people in her life. And maybe the fact that I still liked her even with knowing all of her deep dark secrets is proof that she should reach out more to the people around her. 

Recommended Reading: I think Ava Dellaira's Love Letters to the Dead would be a great follow-up to this book. With both novels, the importance of communication and reaching out to people close to them play a key role in the narrators' healing.       

No comments: