Saturday, March 7, 2015

Book Review: "My Heart and Other Black Holes" by Jasmine Warga

Aysel is a 16-year-old high school student growing up in Kentucky. She's obsessed with science, particularly physics, but she avoids participating in school because she doesn't want to give her fellow classmates even more fodder to whisper about her. She's also tremendously depressed, and fears that the mental illness which plagues her father will affect her in the same way, so she has made up her mind that she's ready to die.

"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."

Aysel spends a lot of time on Smooth Passages, a website for people who want to die. In a section of the site called "Suicide Partners," which is dedicated to people looking for others to make their final plans with. It is in this section that Aysel meets Roman, a 17-year-old who lives in the next town over. He, too, wants desperately to die, wants to do it with someone who lives within an hour of him, and he wants to die on April 7. That's non-negotiable.

As Aysel gets to know Roman, and gets drawn into his life, she realizes the depth of his sadness, but she is uncomfortable sharing her reasons for wanting to die, for fear she may alienate him. As the days draw closer to April 7, she starts to wonder if death is really the answer for the two of them, or if she's better off finding them reasons to live. But Roman isn't interested in changing his plans, no matter how Aysel makes him feel.

"I once read in my physics book that the universe begs to be observed, that energy travels and transfers when people pay attention. Maybe that's what love really boils down to—having someone who cares enough to pay attention so that you're encouraged to travel and transfer, to make your potential energy spark into kinetic energy."

My Heart and Other Black Holes made me sad, and it gave me hope. It painted a tremendously accurate, effective, and emotional picture of teens dealing with depression and despair, and how the need to escape those feelings becomes greater than anything else, even connections with others. Jasmine Warga created memorable characters you truly feel for, and I've been thinking about them even after finishing the book.

This book will generate comparisons with Jennifer Niven's amazing All the Bright Places, and while the two share a general theme, they're very different books. This book is a little more straightforward; I felt as if Roman and Aysel talked more like teenagers and dealt with more teenage-like problems that Violet and Finch did in Niven's book, but I felt as if the plot in this book was a little more predictable. This book is no pale imitation of Niven's, however; it is tremendously well-written and affecting, and it deserves to be read on its own merits.

In the end, it's important to realize that even if your problems seem insurmountable, there is always a solution other than suicide. Anyone dealing with those feelings needs to get help, needs to let someone else in, even if the thought is overwhelming. Give someone else the chance to listen to you, to hear you, to help you.

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