Book Reviews, Debut Author Challenge

Book Review: MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES

BlackHolesTitle: MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES
Author: Jasmine Warga
Publication Information: Balzer + Bray, 2015
Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Recommended For: Fans of Melinda’s voice in Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK.
Warnings: Suicide, and discussion of various ways of committing suicide.

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.

(Summary from Goodreads)

Something that took me aback about MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES was how much was going on in it. Obviously, there’s the suicide aspect to the book. The summary also hints at some family drama. One thing it doesn’t talk about at all is Aysel’s struggle to fit in as a child of immigrant parents in a town that doesn’t have a lot of them, so not only does she feel Other because of her depression, her community constantly reinforces this through their treatment of her – both because of her father’s crime and because of her ethnicity. And, through all of this, Aysel still manages to be darkly funny.

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.

I feel like Warga did a great job getting us inside Aysel’s head right away using a combination of cynical observations and lyrical writing, which made it all the more difficult to watch Aysel wrestle with the decision to commit suicide and explore ways to do it. I think that ultimately, though, the book was as much about hope as it was about depression. As it says in the summary, Aysel starts questioning her will to die – as the book progresses, she starts finding little reasons to live.

Aysel’s struggles with her heritage were woven seamlessly into the story, from people stumbling over her name or straight up pronouncing it wrong even after she’d corrected them, to people learning her name and asking where she was from, to her exploration of her own feelings as she talked about how she didn’t look anything like her blonde, light-skinned half-sister.

Like I said, there is a lot going on in this book – a surprising amount, considering it’s only 300 pages. It’s both thematically and emotionally complex, not to mention the strength of Aysel’s character development. I will definitely be on the lookout for more from Jasmine Warga in the future!

TL;DR: A complex, lyrical, and darkly funny debut.

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