You know, I had a very lovely Tuesday planned that involved reading, possibly finishing, one of the four wonderful books I’m currently reading. And then the mail came with two books I pre-ordered, and those plans were shot to fuck. It seems that Jasmine Warga and her debut novel My Heart and Other Black Holes had vastly different ideas about how my day off would be spent. I can’t remember the last time I inhaled a book, cover to cover, within the span of an afternoon, but I honestly didn’t have the ability to do anything but finish this book with the inadvertently apropos soundtrack of classical piano music to keep me company. And now I’m crying, so, that’s where I am now as I try to consider this rather simple but rather beautiful book. (This review might be a jumbled mess #sorrynotsorry.)
Aysel Seran wants to die. This isn’t hyperbole. Everyone in her small town knows knows who she is and what her father did, and everyone looks at her as if she is nothing but than: her father’s daughter. Her mother ignores her or fears her, her sister is from another species from her, and her little brother—well, actually, he’s all right, but he’s better off without her really. She wants to die and can’t not plan how she’s going to go, but she fears fucking it up at the last minute and ending up an invalid of some kind, half-living, half-dead and generally not much better than the crushing numbness she’s living in now. Then she meets FrozenRobot on a message board called Suicide Partners, what is basically the worst dating site ever to exist. FrozenRobot is not some creeper in his 40s named Bubba but really a boy named Roman, just barely older than she, who can’t escape his own family tragedy. Together, they are going to kill themselves. Except things really don’t go according to plan, and as April 7th nears, things get confusing. Aysel starts to find more reasons to live, and one of them is Roman.
By the first 100 pages, I couldn’t help but think of one of the books I was casually ignoring for this one, My Best Everything (review to come, yo) a sweet YA romance story about unlikely smart girls who fall for the unexpected boy over the course of the story with a potentially tragic ending. By the next 100 pages, I couldn’t help but find more in common with My Heart and YA darling The Fault in Our Stars. Here, we have two main characters falling in love as they face their own inevitable deaths, two smart, darkly funny girls prematurely philosophizing about oblivion, the sarcasm and bad jokes, the boys they never expected to meet, let alone fall for. Even their names are similar, but let me tell you this: Aysel (it rhymes with “gazelle”) is no Hazel Grace. Where Hazel dreads her own end and the effect it will have on her parents, Aysel feels the vast distance between her and her mother and hates how much she empathizes with her father. Hazel is weary of the constant pity she gets from those around her, but Aysel is a social leper. Even the grownups look at her with suspicion, possibly even fear, that she may snap one day, just like her dad. Hazel does not want to meet her end just yet, but Aysel welcomes it, encourages it, finds solace in the idea of it.
Warga demonstrates Aysel’s hopelessness with irreverent honesty. I’ve never been suicidal, but I’ve know the kind of depression that she describes well. I’m familiar with the black slug that eats up all good emotions and even some of the bad. She nailed that weird contradiction of needing people and pushing them away because of the inability to connect with them or sometimes even see them. And Roman, who is, yes, tall and attractive and popular and athletic, is no male manic pixie white knight either. He grieves the imagined future with his sister that can never be, and he blames himself. His guilt weighs heavy on him, and he is not looking to save or be saved. He just doesn’t want to be alone when he takes the plunge.
I know these guys. I grew to love these two characters. I love how I fell in love with the two of them the way they fell in love with each other, in a way I don’t see too often in YA, with gradual subtlety. It wasn’t a sudden jump into eye-hearts and chest palpitations at the merest brush of the fingers but a connection that grew somewhere along the lines from nothing. Love wasn’t the primary focus, and in this book, it isn’t really the cure either. Yes, it’s a huge component of the story, but more than anything, I really dig how Warga handled the topic of depression, as something serious and dark but not precious or delicate, and that it’s not something that can turn on a romance-dime. It was a spark of human connection that first cracked the dam. Anyone who’s ever felt this desperate knows that recovery doesn’t happen with a kiss and a dreamy sigh, that throwing a hot dude at a problem isn’t going to fix it (if only, you feel me?). I really respect this book for not taking the easy way out because salvation doesn’t happen in a moment or in a day when it comes to depression. It can take a lot of time and a lot of work and the hope of a maybe.
I want to take this book and hold it to my chest until it hugs me back. For such dark and heavy subjects, there is also charm, humor and somewhere in there, hope. My Heart and Other Black Holes is the first novel by Jasmine Warga, and for serious, we are all very lucky she quit her day job (a science teacher, which becomes evident when Aysel starts philosophizing in terms of Einstein’s theories of relativity). Her writing is beautiful, authentic, clear.
This book is a bittersweet thing, the kind that you can’t help but speed through but simultaneously regret as you near the end.
Reviewed for Cannonball Read 7.