A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland (349 pages)
Overview: Esther Solar believes her family is cursed to die from their own greatest fears, so she's decided to make a list of everything remotely scary and avoid them so they could never develop into the great fear. Her brother's is the dark, her father is agoraphobic, her grandfather is terrified of water, and her mother is terribly superstitious. They all are, or, at least seem to be. Esther's solitary existence, bouncing from costume to costume with her twin brother, Eugene and selectively mute friend, Hepesba, by her side suits her just fine until she meets an old elementary school crush at the bus stop, Jonah Smallwood. In the process of pick-pocketing her, he comes into possession of Esther's list of fifty fears, and from there, he decides that they will conquer each one. Overall: 4.5
General Thoughts: This book really surprised me. The title alone drew me in enough to put it as #1 on my must read list, but I had no idea that the story would be this deep. With a strong focus and unexpected presentation of mental illness, this book was deep and thought provoking in unexpected ways and well worth the read. The complexity of the book made it a slower read just by how much there was to digest, but a beautiful one too.
Characters: 5 Esther dresses in a different costume every day from which she draws strength by taking on the persona. I thought this was an interesting first clue about our main character, especially because it's said to have arisen after she suffered serious bullying. It's a shield and a coping mechanism for her anxiety which she suffers greatly from in ways far beyond the trivial fears she's built her wall with.
Her brother Eugene who is terrified of the light and her parents, each too consumed by their own fears to be anything remotely like parents, present interesting reflection points for Esther as well. Eugene, as the book progressed grew to become my favorite character. Then her friends, Heph, who suffers from crippling social anxiety, and Jonah who seems bright and like a spark of light as he tries to hide his abusive home, present an interesting parallel as well. Everyone in the book has their own trauma to face in a way that they can't be weighted against one another or compared, and is, in a way, what makes the book both so interesting and so real.
Plot: 4 For the most part, I found the plot complex and interesting. While, as with nearly every book, there were parts that dragged, developing and discovering these people and their relationships with one another made the book impossible to put down. The only part I didn't really love was the final chapter. While I don't want to spoil the book, the ending seemed to be tacked on somewhat unrealistically to give an overly cheerful note to the end which, in some ways diminished from the beautiful storm leading up to that point. A more grounded and reservedly hopeful finale chapter might have better suited this serious and thought provoking story.
Writing: 5 Sutherland's second novel is so different from her first that it hardly seems like the same person wrote it, which, in a way, I love. She's delivered two quality stories with quality righting while also able to delve deeply into the voice and tone that each book required. I was knocked over by the intensity and complexity of this story bringing in elements of family, family relationships, histories, relationships, and friendships in one amazing novel. While at the start, I wasn't sure how serious this deeply superstitious family was and how much to buy into the beliefs and curses, as Sutherland dived further in, the book flourished into one of the most spectacular, fresh, and honest looks at people who suffered from mental illness in ways so deep, some failed to see it in themselves. My words really can't do justice to the questioning, thought provoking, mural building quality of this book.
Links of Interest:
Week 32 Part 1: Nothing: http://www.readingwritingandme.com/2017/10/weekly-reviews-and-recommendations-week_26.html
Week 31 Part 1: Turtles All The Way Down: http://www.readingwritingandme.com/2017/10/weekly-reviews-and-recommendations-week_18.html
Week 31 Part 2: Dazzling Heights: http://www.readingwritingandme.com/2017/10/weekly-reviews-and-recommendations-week_22.html
Our Chemical Hearts: http://www.readingwritingandme.com/2017/10/weekly-reviews-and-recommendations-week_11.html