Title: History Is All You Left Me
Author: Adam Silvera
Publisher: SOHO Tean
Publication Date: January 17, 2017
Genre: YA, LGBTQ, Mental Illness
Rating: 5 Stars
Dear fellow Babblers,
History is All You Left Me is the second novel of debut author Adam Silvera, his first being More Happy Than Not. This is a tragic story of love, loss and letting go (
awesome use of alliteration here Delphine!). Silvera’s novel shows that mourning does not only mean grief but also accepting grief as period of picking up oneself and accepting what is to come. This is a compellingly heartbreaking read and tore me apart from the very first sentence:
“You’re still in alternate universes,Theo, but I live in the real world, where this morning you’re having an open-casket funeral”.
When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.
To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.
If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.
History is All You Left Me is a powerful story that tests time and all the space between the time that one’s love exists and the time that they don’t, maybe in an alternate universe, but not in this one. Griffin’s has lost his best friend and first love Theo first to California. Theo has gone off to school and Griffin holds onto the slim hope that Theo will ultimately come back to him and all will be right in the world again. But then a drowning accident takes Theo away not only from Griffin but also from his new boyfriend, Jackson. Griffin is heartbroken and the only other person who can really understand and relate to his overwhelming sadness is indeed the person who Griffin feels took Theo away from him first: Jackson.
Griffin retells his history with Theo, from the very moment he and Griffin started dating. The novel alternates between the period of Griffin’s grief upon losing Theo and all the little details leading up to Theo’s move to California and eventually his death. Griffin desperately tries to build himself up again, rushing through his pain, only to fall into a relapse and suffer all over again. His sadness is long lasting and throughout the novel Griffin must learn to accept this universe for whatever it may bring instead of imagining the possibilities unfolding in some other nonexistent alternate universe. In this universe happiness can only come again if one lets it. Griffin must battle his history with Theo before he can let in happiness. It is a long journey back but, slowly and steadily, Griffin ultimately makes it.
As Griffin tells this history it’s hard not to notice that one of the biggest reasons for his grief is not only the death of his best friend and boyfriend but also pieces of himself as well. Griffin and Theo’s lives were intertwined – they grew up together, attended each others’ siblings birthday parties, shared the same group of friends; shared each other. Bits of pieces of who Griffin was, from is carefree outlook on life to his awkward quirks also belonged to Theo. The couple’s relationship is sweet, romantic and altogether fun. There were parts that were funny and others that were dramatic and serious. They share each others secrets and grow closer and closer until the deepest, more intimate selves begin to belong to each other. It is these parts of Griffin’s soul that cannot go on without it’s other half. Griffin watches his better half get buried with Theo and cannot resist the temptation to fallback on memories and history, rather than stepping away and trying to move forward. Some of these memories are so powerful that I felt my insides turning, my throat going dry and tears slowly blossoming at the corners of my eyes. The descriptions were so raw and evocative that there were moments that I just had to set the book down and close my eyes, and really take in all that was happening within these pages – it was really that real.
Griffin as a character is a hopeless romantic. He is in brutal, bitter love with Theo and, even upon Theo’s move to California and his getting together with Jackson, he cannot let go. He believes that this is simply not the right time for he and Theo to be a couple but when Theo returns to New York, they will eventually find their way back into each others’ life and heart.
Theo is the more wacky of the two. He’s the typical silly, happy-go-lucky high schooler with passion and looks towards a future in the arts.
Wade completes the boy crew. For most of the novel he seems pushed into the sidelines of Griffin and Theo’s history. He holds onto the promise the other two make that their friendship will never change when Griffin and Theo decide to become a couple. Although a minor character, I really felt bad for Wade, as through most of the novel he just takes everything as it comes. He not only loses Theo but also feels Griffin to be slipping away from him as Griffin becomes closer and closer to Jackson following Theo’s death.
And then their’s Jackson, who walks in on Theo’s life like a sunset in the sea, picking him up off a curb on the highway on a rainy afternoon. He is the only one of the boys present at the time of Theo’s death. He witnesses it all and struggles against the possibility that had he been quicker to react or had mustered up the courage to go into the ocean after him, Theo would still be alive today.
In terms of writing got to me, like really went right through and melted my heart. His words slip right off the page and reach the soul, and somehow stay there long after you turn the page. It’s heartbreaking and romantic at the same time, giving readers feelings they never even knew they could have. Silvera makes the reader feel all the things they have never felt before – all the pain, heartache, confusion that comes with losing someone and the marks we can leave in others lives. The back and forth memories of Theo and Griffin’s relationship, Thanksgiving day scene, the intimate night between Griffin and Jackson, the ending bringing Wade back into the mix – everything about this book tore me heart apart. I knew love could hurt but never would I have felt it hurt so badly. Silvera introduces diversity and represents differences. Mental illness is also one of the major themes with Griffin’s OCD often getting into the way of him functioning properly. Silvera’s depictions are realistic and not romanticized, which I really appreciate given all the over-the-top “try this at home” portraits of mental illness that I’ve noticed in several YA novels lately. Depression is the most evident feeling that underlies the novel. Understandably, all characters, the major and the minor, are troubled, battling and finding ways to cope with their sadness. Griffin learns to share his woes with Jackson while Wade can only watch from afar. The drama of the story is brilliant. I felt completely engaged in each of the characters and never once felt as though they were overreacting or exaggerating. The alternating timeline and dual perspective made me feel closer to the characters and I often felt myself grieving with them, not just for them.
More Happy Than Not is beautiful, but painful. Hopeful, but heartbreaking. Happy, but not. Silvera flawlessly brings to readers a story of love and healing. His words resonate with the reader long after the last page, leaving it’s footsteps in readers hearts. Cry for joy, pain, empathy, anger. This book is in and of itself a masterpiece to be cried over time and time again.
(Book image credits go to Goodreads)