Saturday, March 18, 2017

Book Review: When We Collided

I was enticed by the inside blurb: "In an unflinching story about new love, old wounds, and forces beyond our control, two teens find that when you collide with the right person at just the right time, it will change you forever." Romantic and alluring, no? Then there were the endorsements on the back: "This is more than a love story. When We Collided carefully yet effortlessly puts mental illness in conversation with the beauty and struggle of adolescence." - Julie Murphy (author of Dumplin') "Searingly honest, gut-wrenchingly authentic, and deeply romantic, When We Collided ... tackles tough topics with nuance and will make readers both laugh and cry." - Jasmine Warga

I loved that the story was told again, like in my last YA read dealing with a character with mental illness, in alternating chapters from two different character perspectives. Vivian, who is running from a past littered with the fall-out of her diagnosis, tells the female perspective of the budding romance. Jonah, who is dealing with stages of grief after the loss of his father and the subsequent abandonment of a mother dealing with her own grief, tells the story from an achingly raw perspective. Jonah needs Vivi as much as Vivi needs Jonah and the fact that they enter each other's lives at the just the right time is icing on the cake. Vivi is not afraid of darkness and Jonah desperately needs someone to brighten his world.

And just like my reaction from the last YA book, I keep wondering why YA authors find it necessary to paint the picture that all teenagers are having sex. These two characters have plenty on their plates already without adding the emotional baggage and intensity of a sexual relationship. Yet the author paints the picture that their sexual involvement is merely a side-note and no big deal, even though they end up going their separate ways at the end of the tale. For once I would like a YA book to honestly express the fall-out of such casual intercourse and the damage done by engaging in intimacy at that level with the flippancy of handing out a business card. Instead, readers are led to believe that such intimacy heals the wounds of the present and allows individuals to move on into other spheres more whole, instead of less. So, while there were, indeed, "raw, descriptive truths" (SLJ starred review) in the book, some of the truths rang questionable to my ears.

Moreover, I was troubled by the absence of reliable, supportive adults. While it is entirely realistic that a mother might drown in the grief of the loss of her spouse and might truly leave her children to fend for themselves, there could have been other adults playing a responsible role and intervening into Jonah's chaotic world or even Vivian's (absent self-involved mother and father). Yet, even the upstanding town sheriff offers shallow support ("deal with the cards life has dealt"). It would have been refreshing to see adults stepping up to the plate to assist these fragile adolescents.

Still, we do need novels like this one - novels that portray the reality of life with mental illness because plenty of young people are out there struggling with these illnesses. Moreover, we need to learn to handle such individuals with gentleness and kindness. We need to eliminate the social stigma. Having personal familiarity with the depth of clinical depression, I'm all for stories that highlight the medical challenges presented by such illnesses. I certainly hope teen readers who can relate to the personal battles of either Vivian or Jonah will not close the book without utilizing the resources the author has listed at the end.

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