History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, 2017
YA novel; realistic fiction, LGBT
Griffin is devastated by the death of Theo, who has been his friend since middle school, his boyfriend since one summer day two years ago, and technically, his ex-boyfriend since Theo left for college last year. As he mourns his “favorite human,” Griffin bonds with the one person who understands how he feels: Jackson, Theo’s new boyfriend and Griffin’s nemesis until now. The book tells Griffin’s story non-chronologically, alternating between “today” chapters that begin with the day of Theo’s funeral, and “history” chapters beginning with the day they decided they were dating. As the book progresses, the reader gradually learns more about the circumstances surrounding Theo’s death and who was in love with whom on that day.
Let me start by saying that overall, this is a well-written and interesting book. The characters are believable and likable, and there’s a lot of character development going on in the story. The out-of-order sequence of plot points works well and adds an element of suspense that often isn’t there in stories this realistic. And Griffin’s narrative voice, (which addresses Theo in the “today” chapters and speaks in a more traditional first person in the “history” chapters) is conversational enough to give this introspection-heavy book the same tone as a dialogue-heavy book. And, as someone who sort of has OCD, (I have been diagnosed with it in the past, but my current diagnoses is General Anxiety Disorder with OCD tendencies) I always appreciate books like this one that depict the disorder accurately.
But there were a number of things I didn’t like about this book. Part of it is personal preferences—I’m generally not a huge fan of stories with a lot of sexual content, and I don’t tend to enjoy LGBT romance novels. Besides, a book that is about grief and takes place in winter is naturally going to be on the bleak side, which is also not a favorite literary trait of mine. But I also feel that there are some themes that just weren’t thoroughly developed or adequately used. The messages about moving on, forgiveness, honesty, and finding one’s own happiness are either under-emphasized throughout the book, or over-emphasized in the last few pages. The frequent mentions of alternate universes gave me a sense that they were building up to some big philosophical point, but that never happened. The very last sentence made me wonder if it’s implying the possibility that Griffin is an unreliable narrator, but as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no hint of that until then. Although, Griffin talks to Theo and believes Theo can hear him, but that actually doesn’t seem that out-of-the-ordinary considering the grief and shock that Griffin is experiencing regarding Theo’s death. Finally, although SLJ’s review praised the book for Griffin’s gradual discovery that Theo was also a flawed human, I didn’t get that impression. It seemed to me that Griffin consistently lionized Theo except in one specific incident.
But I’ll concede that these are minor quibbles and that this book is certainly worth a read. I would recommend it for young adult readers who are specifically looking for LGBT romance, for protagonists with OCD, or with plotlines that center around death. (No judging; I recall going through a death-story phase as a teen) I feel that it gears towards the older end of YA, if only because two of the major characters and some secondary characters are college students. As a side note, Silvera has a book scheduled to be published in September that sounds very intriguing.