I was lucky enough to win a copy from The Debutante Ball, and when I received it in the mail, it was clear that Rodriguez was the one to take it to the post office herself (but not before signing it to me). That’s, like, a lot of pressure to like a book. I’m a woman of limited attention span. What captures my attention and can hold it is arbitrary and without reason. So it was pretty disappointing when I first started Cindy L. Rodriguez’s When Reason Breaks. The story starts off with an unsigned suicide note, but it was still hard for me to get into. Then I got past the 45th page, and something clicked.
Emily Delgado has friends, a successful father in politics, and teachers love her. Her boyfriend was her childhood crush, and nothing seems wrong with her life. Elizabeth Davis has an attitude and a problem with authority. Everything about her from the outside screams GOTH. Someone tells her she looks like the girl in NCIS. She writes poetry and doesn’t talk to anyone but her two best friends. Their lives are so disparate from each other and only come close to overlapping in class because their names always put them next to each other alphabetically. They only have one thing in common, and that’s English class where Ms. Diaz introduces to them the works of Emily Dickinson. One of these two girls is going to commit suicide by the end of this book. (And yes, it’s probably the one you’re thinking.) (Or is it?)
So, it seems that suicidal teenagers is a thing in YA this year? I’m not complaining—okay, I am a little. Feelings are hard. Depression is a difficult topic to broach. Reminders of my humanity are not often welcome. But here we are, having emotions. What Cindy Rodriguez did here was really pretty wonderful. There was no big AHA moment that suckered me in a few chapters in. I merely was allowed to slide into the story. These two girls have more in common than they’d admit, and the reader gets to know them throughout the book. I really enjoyed seeing them through each others’ eyes and then their own. In the Author’s Note, Rodriguez explains that the two girls represented the two sides of Emily Dickinson: the smart girl with the normal social life who pulls back from those she loves, and the angry reclusive poet.
Depression comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s the picture of sadness that just can’t be shaken. Sometimes it’s numb and deafeningly blank. Sometimes, it’s agitated, resentful and angry, quick to snap. Sometimes it creeps up on you, devious and quiet, destroying everything before you even know it’s there. I really loved the diversity in how Rodriguez brought this to life. I also loved the fact that one of the main characters isn’t white. There, I said it! I said it! But it’s true. You don’t get that viewpoint often, which is stupid, because depression doesn’t care where your ancestry hails from or if other people in your life are suffering too or if your dad is running for state legislature. These are all things that Rodriguez manages to address and demonstrate seamlessly into her story, as easily as she weaves in little Easter eggs for the Dickinson geeks out there who might notice all the fun details from ED’s life. (There were many more than I could’ve picked up on, and the Author’s Note helpfully points them out for you.)
It’s pretty clear that I really enjoyed this book. My only qualms with the writing didn’t matter after a while (the aforementioned slow start) or were small and petty, such as the number of times Emily “circled a piece of hair around her ear” (I counted five times, and it might’ve been intentional anyway). Rodriguez makes a pretty solid first impression with her debut novel here, and I hope to read more for her.
Reviewed for Canonball Read.