Book Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
Number of Pages: 302
Date Published: February 10, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Actual Rating: 3.5
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: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) 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. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.
Warning: spoilers (mild) in brackets
At first glance, you’d think that this book might as well have been labeled with the usual marketing tag: For fans of John Green and Jennifer Niven comes… but I’m actually thankful it’s not there. If we’re talking similarities, I think this book is more like a distant relative (a very distant relative) of All the Bright Places. [Oh, you don’t have to worry about an easy breezy tragedy. There’ll be none of that.]
The idea of suicide partners is both interesting and terrifying, and wow was this story such a quick read. It started out really strong. The dark atmosphere and Aysel’s voice had me contemplating a lot of times.
Warga managed to paint a different picture of depression by weaving characters who carry contrasting facades. In another person’s eyes, Aysel looks miserable because of her pensive and humorless attitude. She carries anger and grief on her sleeve, and people avoid her for that.
He was fucking sad. That’s it. That’s the point. He knows life is never going to get any different for him. That there’s no fixing him. It’s always going to be the same monotonous depressing bullshit. Boring, sad, boring, sad. He just wants it to be over.
In contrast, Roman keeps his struggles hidden. He looks completely indifferent on the outside, yet his thoughts are as real and as paralyzing as Aysel’s. Note: This is Roman in Aysel’s perspective:
I don’t know how to describe it, but the more I stare at him, the more I see his grief wrapped around him like shackles he can never take off. Yes, he looks like someone designed to be popular and successful, but he also looks like someone who was made to wear grief. He wears it well.
Frankly, I didn’t care about the other characters. They were barely involved, *cue cardboard cut-outs* but I’m not about to waste my time discussing this common occurrence.
So what didn’t I like? Well, to put it simply, it was a strong start that lapsed into a faulty transition. The change was too instantaneous. I thought it was an awkward maneuver done in an attempt to twist the story into one that deserves a happy ending. It just did not make sense to me.
[You don’t get an immediate change of heart from loving someone. You don’t say “I see. I am in love with him. Oh I know. We should just stop this. We should live happily ever after instead. That’ll definitely make things better.” You don’t recover from mental illness after a split-second realization. It doesn’t work that way.]
Well, the good thing is, if you don’t think about it too deeply, I’d say that this book offers a story with a comforting romance and a clear resolve to raise awareness about a number of things – loneliness, suicide, grief, regret, etc. The story is not unforgettable but it’s good nonetheless. It starts a bit dark at first but give it a chance. All things considered, it was a pretty encouraging read.
On a related note: The sad thing is, not everyone knows how serious depression really is. You can never tell if the person you talked to in class or on the bus on your way home has contemplated death numerous times. Nobody has the right to construct a “portrait” or lash out stereotypes at somebody struggling with depression. You don’t go around saying “I’m depressed” on a whim one day because you lost your money or flunked a test.
Not every sad human being on this planet is depressed. There is a time frame, a checklist, a diagnosis to be made. Mental illness is a difficult topic to broach, but I’d like to think that a lot of efforts are being made to raise awareness at present. That thought alone is comforting.
Favorite Quotes from My Heart and Other Black Holes
“Depression is like a heaviness that you can’t ever escape. It crushes down on you, making even the smallest things like tying your shoes or chewing on toast seem like a twenty-mile hike uphill. Depression is a part of you; it’s in your bones and your blood.”
Anyone who has actually been that sad can tell you that there’s nothing beautiful or literary or mysterious about depression.
What people never understand is that depression isn’t about the outside; it’s about the inside. Something inside me is wrong. Sure, there are things in my life that make me feel alone, but nothing makes me feel more isolated and terrified than my own voice in my head.
“It’s like your sadness is so deep and overwhelming that you’re worried it will drown everyone else in your life if you let them too close to it.
“Be careful,” he says.
“Why?” I’m not thinking about being careful. I’m thinking about one last push, of letting go, of flying, and of falling.
“You aren’t allowed to die without me,” he whispers.