Books by State: Kentucky

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

“Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution—Roman, a teenage boy who’s haunted by a family tragedy, is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together.” – Amazon’s Summary

**SPOILERS** I’m a bit torn as to how I feel about the messages this book conveys. It walks a thin line in a couple different aspects. Obviously, the overall message about not giving up, not letting yourself be swallowed up by your mental illness and/or your negative past, is an excellent one. However, the way it gets there can be seen as problematic. It leans a bit too heavily on love saving the day. “Finding someone to love can save you,” is a dangerous thing to promise. Although Aysel ultimately chooses to live for herself, to try to conquer her depression and step out from her father’s dark shadow, the only way she got there was because she fell for a boy. That may feel like something that is out of reach for a lot of the people who struggle with mental illnesses. It also romanticizes death a bit too much for my liking.

BUT! Opening up to someone really can make a world of difference. I think that’s what truly saved Aysel. She began to open up, tear down her walls, and really think and vocalize what was going on in her head. That can happen with anyone, not only a love interest. I think it would have been more effective if the romance angle wasn’t there. If the two just became close friends. When you add the romance, it’s all people want to focus on. The real reason she changed her mind about dying wasn’t just because she fell in love and it fixed everything. In fact, her first major shift seemed to happen when her half-sister reached out to her. Aysel believed her sister hated her, but when she said, genuinely, “I just wish you weren’t so sad all the time,” something jolted inside of Aysel. It made her agree to get out of bed, and – as she was getting ready – she heard her mother and brother downstairs saying how glad they were that she was coming down for breakfast. She felt warm and loved, and she was surprised that the feeling didn’t immediately get devoured by her “black slug” of depression. That hope, that warmth, doesn’t just have to come from a love interest, but you lose that message when you bury it under “loving you saved my life / you’re the only reason I’m alive.”

I’m sure plenty of people would disagree with me. That’s perfectly fine! If you were saved in that way, that’s fantastic. Truly! No matter what it is that sparks the desire to keep going, it is beautiful. I just worry that pushing the love angle too hard will alienate some people further. I’ve known a lot of suicidal people, a lot of my friends are currently or have struggled with mental illnesses and suicidal thoughts. I’ve seen their relationships implode because of it. I’ve seen their relationships only cause them more pain and suffering. These problems, for many people, are not so easily fixed just by finding the right person to love. Still, I wouldn’t condemn anyone for believing in the power of love. I’d just like to remind everyone that there are so many forms of love, and any one of them can be just as life-saving as romantic love.

Something I feel was done perfectly in this book was the descriptions of depression. You can truly feel both the characters’ pain. I may go so far as to say Depression was its own character in the story. It has a major presence. It lends a heaviness to the whole affair. All of Aysel’s descriptions of her “black slug” are spot on and easily understood.

Overall, I believe it is a very well-written novel with some very positive messages. I just wish the love angle could have been toned down, or used more as a push off point for Aysel more than a crutch.

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