When We Collided: review

When We Collided: review

When We Collided: reviewWhen We Collided by Emery Lord
Published by Bloomsbury on April 5th, 2016
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 352 pages
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads

four-half-stars

We are seventeen and shattered and still dancing. We have messy, throbbing hearts, and we are stronger than anyone could ever know…

Jonah never thought a girl like Vivi would come along.

Vivi didn’t know Jonah would light up her world.

Neither of them expected a summer like this…a summer that would rewrite their futures.

In an unflinching story about new love, old wounds, and forces beyond our control, two teens find that when you collide with the right person at just the right time, it will change you forever.

Sometimes, you’ll meet a girl who bursts into a room and draws all eyes to her. Someone so charming and vivid that you can’t help but love and envy her–and perhaps wonder at how she burns so brightly, because there are times when it almost hurts to be in her orbit.

Vivi Alexander shows up in a sleepy beach town one summer, and turns Jonah’s life upside down. In the stoic routine and worry of his life, Vivi is dazzlingly beautiful in her vintage dresses and bright lipstick, as well as kind to his little sister and wise beyond her years. Their attraction is immediate, and they’re soon sneaking kisses when people aren’t looking, he’s making her caprese sandwiches and leaving them outside her door, and she’s pulling him into a whirlwind of joyous outings and scandalous liasons. Their romance is sweet and funny and endearing, especially because they’re drawn to each other’s personalities and histories and individuality.

The sweetness aches somewhere in my ribs. It could wreck a girl–this handsome guy, shirtless in the summer sun, making sure his little sister’s neck won’t get burned.

For most of the day, his eyes stay on the littles(…) it’s only once in awhile that I catch his eyes on me. But when I do, he gives me a slow smile, like we’re both in on a secret.

And Jonah’s perspective:

She looks like a lemon meringue pie tastes. Sunny, tangy and sweet.

(…)

Most of the time, I feel drunk on Vivi. Lightheaded and wanting more, more, more. But then there are moments when being with her feels like a cruel hangover. Or maybe it’s just that I am cast in the role of Buzzkill.

The thing is, sometimes the girl who sweeps you up into adventures is hiding a secret–one that can’t be easily fixed by a few quick strokes of an author’s pen by the end of summer.

It’s 288 pages into When We Collided before the words “bipolar disorder” are used, and yet their impact is felt on every page. Emery Lord puts us in Vivi’s head with skillful writing and gives us a feeling of astonishing familiarity–she shows us naturally and incrementally how Vivi’s thoughts can be dizzyingly happy, then distracted, then fiercely loving, then bewildered and defiant, and then desperately lonely and sad. It’s a mind that can be quiet and contemplative, and a mind that can be racing a million miles a minute–and it’s a mind ruled by a valiant heart beating inside a incandescent sixteen-year-old who’s doing the best she can. The only other time I’ve read a YA book that portrayed mental illness with such distinct clarity, empathy, and matter-of-factness was in Wild Awake, which was one of my favorite books of 2013. When We Collided also shows us the different ways people cope and grieve and process, not only through Vivi and Jonah, but also through Jonah’s mom and Vivi’s relationship with her dad.

Balancing serious underlying topics with family dynamics and romance is no easy task, but Lord does this with ease, as well as with beautiful imagery and feeling. This book has similar themes and settings as a Sarah Dessen novel, except it’s deeper and brighter, and it’s painterly with words like Jandy Nelson’s books, except it’s sharper and more true.

After I drafted my review, I read a few other reviews, which all agreed that the serious arcs were handled exceptionally well. I was surprised to find that some readers had a problem connecting with Vivi, however; even if I didn’t know people like her in my life, I feel like I understand her so well from the way her POV was described, and my heart was so full with feeling for her attempts to make sense and meaning of the hand she is dealt. The other issue readers seemed to have was with the romance, which also took me aback, because I loved it! There are so many lovely moments in which the two of them appreciate each other, there are seriously swoony “big gestures” that don’t feel hammy, their physical relationship is portrayed in a healthy, positive way, and they support each other’s dreams even if they don’t see themselves in them. View Spoiler » I suppose that last bit might be one of the sticking issues: when the book ends, Vivi makes the decision (with her mother) to seek psychiatric help, go back on medication, and move back to Seattle. She lets go of Jonah in the most loving and positive of ways possible, however.

Quote, because I can’t do a formatted pull quote within spoilers:

That’s the thing they never tell you about love stories: just because one ends, that doesn’t mean it failed. A cherry pie isn’t a failure because you eat it all. It’s perfect for what it is, and then it’s gone. And exchanging the truest parts of yourself–all the things you are–with someone? What a slice of life. One I’ll carry with me into every, single someday.

So many high school friendships and relationships end with a bittersweet ache, and this book captures that wistful, near-sobbing feeling with kindess, with understanding, and with a “you’re going to be okay” promise. « Hide Spoiler

When We Collided View Spoiler » may not have a conventional happy ending, but it « Hide Spoiler ends happily as far as I’m concerned–and in a way that feels both realistic and emotionally true. This book is not to be missed if you are a fan of contemporary YA, and I fully expect it to land on my best of 2016 list this year; it’s a beautiful book that’s beautifully done.

And despite the romance at its heart, it does not romanticize mental illness in any way. If anything, it feels painfully truthful.

An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.

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