Contemporary

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

myheartstrigger warning: suicide, mental illness

As much as I wanted to read this last year, I wasn’t as sure that I did when I finally got my hands on it. I guess that after Love Letters to the Dead and Falling Into Place and All the Bright Places, I was a bit tired of misery!YA. And this is another one of those, said to be “perfect for fans of Jay Asher and Laurie Halse Anderson” in the book description.

It’s about Aysel, sixteen-year-old physics nerd who is suffering from depression. Aysel is sure that she wants to die, but she isn’t sure that she’s “brave” enough to go through it alone. So she turns to a website called Suicide Partners, where the suicidal find a “buddy” to off themselves with successfully. That’s how she meets Roman, her new suicide partner whose depression comes from a family tragedy. The two don’t have much in common, but as they meet up to plan their eventual suicide, they also help each other deal with the cracks in their life. When Aysel realises that perhaps dying isn’t the solution she’s looking for, it’s up to her to figure out if she can get Roman to come to the same conclusion.

Personally, I don’t buy the idea that one could “save” another person from suicide or depression, and the idea that Aysel could get better just because she fell in love was hard to take, even if she did admit that it might not last. Mental illness isn’t something that can be cured so easily – the best one can do is learn to live with it. I do like how Aysel’s depression is handled otherwise, especially in her impatience with other people saying they’re “depressed” when they’re just sad or romanticising mental illness. The description of depression as a “black slug” also works well for me: Β 

I bet if you cut open my stomach, the black slug of depression would slide out. Guidance counselors always love to say, “Just think positively,” but that’s impossible when you have this thing inside of you, strangling every ounce of happiness you can muster. My body is an efficient happy-thought-killing machine.

I think compared to most of the other recent YA titles that deal with mental illness that I’ve read, this is one of the ones that best explain what it’s like. It’s real enough that I do think a trigger warning is necessary for those that already do grapple with depression, and I guess that increases my ire with how easily Aysel sweeps away her sadness once she gets her epiphany about wanting to live. Deciding to live when suffering through depression is like being in a constant battle with yourself; it isn’t easy at all. Another thing that bothered me is that Aysel dislikes literature and metaphors, saying that it complicates the simple things while physics (her favourite subject) simplifies the complicated. This is okay and all, but then the prose of this book is kind of pretty and occasionally peppered with the kind of “complicating the simple” that Aysel claims to hate, and it’s supposed to be AYSEL’S THOUGHTS. I’m mostly fine with that because I liked the prose, but I guess it does bug me somewhat.

This book’s publication is so close to Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, and they have a similar concept, so I can’t help but think back to it as I read this. I think that My Heart and Other Black HolesΒ is better in depicting mental illness without romanticising it, and I really like Aysel’s narrative voice (despite my earlier complaints), especially when she’s talking about her family or musing about the potential energy of things. I’m looking forward to see what Jasmine Warga writes next.

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