2.3.15

Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga


review
                 book












title:  My Heart and Other Black Holes

author:  Jasmine Warga

pages: 480

format: Hardcover 

isbn/asin: 978-0062324672

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7.5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Falling into Place by Amy Zhang, and Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira.  

will i read this author again?:  Yes 
will i continue the series?:  N/A 

My Ratings Explained



Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.






the basics
I'd just finished I Was Here by Gayle Foreman, which mentions suicide support sites, so Heart seemed a fitting next read, and proved to be such.  It's the kind of book that's a little fumbling on first read, but ages with time, like wine, into something uniquely beautiful and memorable.  The story is extreme, to be sure.  Aysel is a murderer's daughter.  Roman's teenage carelessness led to his sister's death.  For this, they've decided to die--together, because they need someone to pull the plug if they can't.  The story that follows is a little clunky.  The characters draw heavily from types, the plot falls into a routine.  But the second half redeems these missteps, with twists that ground the story firmly in the gray of reality and an ending betwixt fear and hope.  All of this is packaged in writing that, while sometimes clumsy, is inexplicably teenaged and undoubtedly Aysel.  Couched in physics and frenetic introspection, Aysel's perspective evokes the ambivalent mind of depression, not least the stubborn tenacity with which it clings to comfortable sadness, even as it yearns for light.  Warga's book begs to be read, taught, and understood, and will leave its reader thinking--which is all I can really ask.   

plot . 3.5/5
Many books focused on suicide plant themselves in the thick of depression well before the act, or in the aftermath of a successful or botched attempt.  Heart is somewhat unique in its focus, in that our story begins when the decision has been made but not yet enacted.  Thus, we begin with Aysel choosing a suicide partner (Bet you didn't know there was social media for suicide.)  and beginning the journey towards her end.  There's a dark, very irreverent humor in her budding relationship with Roman.  How do you handle meeting the mother?  Navigating last wishes and unexpected attraction?  It's a sick, unhealthy matching, a dance of Aysel clinging to unfinished business and Roman bullying her into staying the course.  Meanwhile, there are school projects to be finished, siblings to be placated, and murderous fathers to be tracked down.  The predictable path of the romance was my least favorite element, while I loved the shifting dynamics of Aysel's relationships with others.  I began to realize that some of the cliches I recognized--everybody hates Aysel, poor her--were artifacts of a fixated, unreliable narrator.  I think the book would have hooked me more immediately if I'd begun it with more healthy skepticism.  Once I was attached, I enjoyed the slice-of-life quality of the last half, and its surprising--but somehow expected--final revelations.  It's a slow moving thing.  Give it time to unfold.  

concept . 5/5
The focus on planning a suicide allows Heart to navigate spaces that are typically investigated after the fact.  Looking back, I can't help but realize how sharply accurate the book was in its treatment of severe depression.  The first person narration allows Warga to play around with distortions and lies--and woe to the reader, like me, who at first takes it at face value.  Aysel's world is a fantasy built on selected reality.  Her father murdered a beloved student.  Her mother hates her for invading their perfect step-family.  Aysel's sister hates her for her weirdness and strangeness.  Her classmates hate her for her association with their darkest moment.  Only some of these facts are true.  As you read on, you begin to notice the information that Aysel doesn't.  The concern from classmates.  Her sister's feeble ploys for her attention.  Her mother's fragility.  It's a sad and enlightening commentary on the power of depression to maintain itself by any means.  This power is personified in Roman, the external voice of Aysel's hopelessness.  I hope it will create empathy in those who know someone like this, who have ever uttered, "It seems like you aren't trying to be happy."  


characters . 3/5
I think I'd have liked the book more if I hadn't disliked Roman so much.  Looking back, I realize how necessary that dislike was, but at the time, it annoyed me just enough.  Roman is very typical in his beautiful teenage god persona, a little Twilight.  Even as I pitied him, I wanted to punch him in the face.  Aysel was easier to stomach.  She's annoyingly unaware, but in a way I can relate to.  She's also funny, quirky, and insightful with respect to everything but herself.  Even though her quirks were exaggerated (who really goes around humming Wagner?), they made her real.  She also showed a lovely, rare clarity in the final bits of the book; she leaps beyond many young adult protagonists in the simple realization that Roman's fatalistic view of their relationship wasn't healthy, that their ending wasn't assured happiness.  What I really missed was the inclusion of other characters.  Georgia, Tyler, Aysel's mother, her teacher, Mrs. Franklin--they were glimpses, but so underutilized.  I know some of their scarceness can be credited to the self-absorption of depression, but I wanted more from them, especially in the end.  

style . 4/5
Warga's style here is a little clumsy.  The writing isn't always as tight as I wanted it to be, and there are moments that I could have ripped from any other halfbaked teenage romance.  That said, there was also something brilliant about it.  The first person narrative could have been stolen from a teenager's brain.  The present tense, though annoyingly overused in young adult, actually made perfect sense here; the suicidal brain is one focused very much on the present, because the future seems impossible.  I came to know Aysel very deeply through her wishy-washy observations, her naivete, her startlingly profound musings on the physics of mental illness.  It's not the kind of writing I ache over, but it worked.  

mechanics . 4/5
One feature that really worked for this novel was the demarcation of chapters into days.  Each new split was a part of a countdown to The Day.  On one hand, this meant that Aysel and Roman formed a somewhat unbelievably close connection in a very short period of time.  It also made the narrative choppy in places where the time jumps weren't as fluid.  On the other hand, it created a tense feeling of urgency that propelled me forward.  There was always a new chapter heading to remind me how quickly time was running out.  



take home message
My Heart and Other Black Holes offers a rare and poignant view of depression's power to linger and corrupt, told in the quirky voice of a girl on the edge.  




Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  



2 comments:

  1. Sigh... I am intrigued by the wrting and the subject matter, but I just Cynthia Hand's latest and I can only do so many of these types of reads. Still I think I am going to add this to the pile because I want to read it.

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    Replies
    1. It's definitely not your happiest subject, although I've read a lot of suicide books lately and this one is definitely the most uplifting, if that can be said. I haven't read Hand's yet. Was it good?

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