History is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera

A Book Review

 

Make no mistake. This book will break your heart, but also, it’s completely worth it. Narrated by Griffin, who is grieving his ex-boyfriend Theo, History is All You Left Me is a smart and thoroughly satisfying examination of love and grief. As Griffin tries to navigate his feelings about Theo’s death, the reader is taken on a journey between Griffin’s past with Theo and the present without him. Is it a “feel-good” sort of book? Not really. But it will make you feel *all* the feelings.

No Villains Here

What I loved the most about this book, apart from the jealousy-inducing prose was the fact that there weren’t any “villains” in this story. Although Griffin might see Jackson (Theo’s boyfriend) as a nemesis of sorts, as readers we get to know him in such a way that he is likeable. Further complicating the narrative is the fact that Griffin begins to learn that in some ways he and Jackson are similar.

A Unique Narrative Angle

The book begins with Griffin declaring, “You’re alive in alternate universes, Theo, but I live in the real world, where this morning you’re having an open-casket funeral,” making it clear from the get-go that this story is more confessional than anything else. What I like about this narrative frame is the semi-epistolary feel that Griffin’s asides to Theo bring to the story.

On one level, we have a story that follows Griffin as he grudgingly befriends Jackson while we are also exposed to the deeper (one-sided) dialogue between Griffin and Theo. This is a clever way to look at grief, because it feels like Silvera is trying to capture that feeling of losing someone, but not wanting to let go of them fully by keeping Theo’s presence within the narrative.

Heartbroken, in a Good Way

Is there a good way to feel heartbroken? I’m not sure, but if there is, History is All You Left Me has most definitely accomplished that. There are plenty of light moments that break the tension, of course, but also even though the ending is still somewhat sad it feels honest.

Without writing any spoilers, the reveals that come at the end of Griffin’s journey through his own grief and struggles with mental illness felt intense and heartbreaking, but also deeply real. I spent most of the book wishing that Theo would somehow come back to life and even though Griffin does find some closure, I was still left feeling heartbroken for him.

Read This Book (And Weep)

Prior to discovering History is All You Left Me, I didn’t think I would ever want to read a book about grief. But now, I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone. Silvera’s language is beautiful; his message is unforgettable.

What are your favourite books about grief?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re More Victorian than we Think

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As someone who grew up watching The X-Files and visiting every ghostly landmark I could find, I am a total sucker for a good ghost story.  If the Victorians hadn’t been so uptight about other things, I might even pine for that long lost era, because those guys really knew how to spin a good spectral yarn.

If you’ve read The Turn of the Screw, then you’ll know what I mean.  I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps, despite our modern society, we are still in some ways just a little bit Victorian in our fascination with the supernatural. Which leads me to ask this question: are we more Victorian in our literary proclivities than we realize?

Why Ghost Stories?

So what is it about ghostly tales that draws us in? One author suggests that at least for the Victorians, gas lamps and carbon monoxide hallucinations might have been to blame for the increased interest in ghost stories, but that doesn’t account for those of us living in the present, does it? Other theories suggest that a shift in economic times increases the interest in ghost stories and Neil Gaiman has even written a few words on the subject here, but I have another theory.

The Modern Ghost

What if the popularity of ghost stories were connected in some way to the growth of technology?

If you thought that spirit photography was an old, weird tradition, how do you account for the many many pictures purporting ghostly encounters online? Or the youtube videos declaring true sightings. And this type of “true footage” story lives on in the film industry too, with titles such as Paranormal Activity, a story that chronicles the demonic stalking of a young woman through security camera footage. This certainly might account for the reason people still want to hear ghost stories, but what about the Victorians?

Victorian, At Heart

If you think about it, in some ways, ghost stories were connected to “modern” technology for the Victorians too. With the development of the electric telegraph and the radio, people were suddenly able to be in better contact with one another and to hear a real-live disembodied voice speaking across air waves, but they were still in some ways disconnected from one another.

Steamships could deliver them farther than they might have thought possible and the railroads were opening up new routes of travel too. Just like us, the Victorians were experiencing a change in the way that they found human interaction. Similarly, in a world where we are increasingly connected, yet disconnected, is it really such a stretch that we would yearn for an everlasting connection to our world even after death?

 

Anxiety, Loneliness & the Spook

If you look at a ghost story like The Open Door by Margaret Oliphant (1885), which is about a boy who hears a frightening noise in his house and begins to go mad and compare it to something like Asylum by Madeleine Roux (2013) which in many ways deals with similar themes of anxiety and loneliness, it feels like the stories we tell time and again are scratching at the door of something much larger. Perhaps it is some unchecked fear of the collective unconscious that speaks to an increasingly anxious population of readers.

Whatever the case, I have a feeling that ghost stories aren’t about to disappear any time soon.

What’s your favourite ghost story?

 

 

Miss You, by Kate Eberlen

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I’m not going to lie. I chose this book because the cover was so pretty. But what I discovered was a heartfelt and deeply engrossing story of two people making a slow journey towards one another. Sure, Miss You  is a love story, but Eberlen’s intricately woven tale is also about so much more.

Stunning Settings

Perhaps my favourite element of this book were the descriptions of Italy and London, which were so detailed that I felt like I was right there along with Tess as she slurped fresh pasta with her BFF Doll. Sometimes, I think that travel scenes in novels can come across as inauthentic, but in this case, it felt like Eberlen got the details down so perfectly that the narrative felt like a true escape.

A Thought-Provoking Narrative

Apart from Miss You exploring the ideas of “true love” and the notion that there is someone out there for everyone, there is also a narrative thread that explores the idea of illness. Particularly, we learn quite early in the story that Tess’s mother has breast cancer. This becomes a deep struggle for Tess as she grows older and fears for her own health too. Paired with the will-they-won’t-they romance, this idea of fearing for one’s life in relation to illness resonated with me as a reader. It begs the question: even if we are going to die tomorrow, isn’t it still worth it to meet the potential love of our life?

That Ending!

Being that the majority of the book is a series of moments where Tess and Gus might have come across one another but didn’t, I found the build up to their final meeting to be well-drawn out. I love that there are several times when they might have met, but circumstances prevent this from happening. My one quibble was with the final chapter. While their eventual meeting was just as glorious as I’d hoped, there are a few reveals in the final pages that left me reeling. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want the book to end, but those final words left me…wanting.

Despite wanting just a little bit more, I would absolutely recommend this book. Not only is it beautifully written, but it explores some thought-provoking themes in a clever way. Now that I’ve given this book to a friend, I’m kind of already missing it.

 

If you’ve read Miss You what did you think of it? Would you recommend it to a friend?