Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A SEMI-DEFINITIVE LIST OF WORST NIGHTMARES BY KRYSTAL SUTHERLAND - BOOK REVIEW

After reading Sutherland's debut novel Our Chemical Hearts last year, I knew I was going to love anything she wrote and immediately pre-ordered this book. While this book is definitely very different from OCH, I loved it just the same.

Hello everyone!

I am back with another book review, today it is A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland.


The story follows seventeen-year-old Esther, whose family has been cursed by Death himself. After meeting him in the Vietnam War, Esther's grandfather tells Esther and her twin brother, Eugene the curse - the members of their family will all die of their fears. The curse, however, has crippled her family - her father is afraid of leaving the house and hasn't left the basement in 6 years, her mother struggles to make due and gambles, terrified of bad luck. Eugene's fear of the dark means that the lights are taped on and Esther has a whole list of fears she plays on avoiding to avoid death. Because you can't die of your fear if you avoid your fear. With the help of her childhood friend, Jonah, Esther begins to face her fears and break the curse. But soon she discovers that maybe some things just happen and the family's issues may be the result of something a little more practical than a curse from Death.

One of the prominent elements of this book is mental illness. It's been a good minute since I've read a book about mental illnesses, especially on a more general scale. Esther deals with social anxiety and from my personal experiences with anxiety, I think Sutherland did a really good job depicting it. Her explanations of anxiety and depression were on par with other fantastic books such as Jasmine Warga's brilliant My Heart and Other Black Holes. Sutherland described these illnesses with tact and validity. I will just mention that there is a trigger warning for self-harm, physical abuse, and (a fairly vivid) suicide attempt in this book so please be aware of that going in.

I also really liked the relationships between the characters. While there is, of course, the romantic relationship between Jonah and Esther, there is also the relationships between Esther and her family, specifically her brother, as well as her friendship with her selectively mute best friend whose name is escaping me at the moment. All these relationships were really unique and I appreciated how fleshed out they were. Usually, we see the main character's relationship with the love interest and then maybe one other character, but Sutherland includes more than that.

This book isn't really what it seems to be, and I think that really worked in its favour. I was expecting a cute, romantic read with some magical realism elements of Death Incarnate. But what I got was a deep and emotional story about a group of people who are living their lives not much different from you or me. Sutherland has a way of humanizing every character in the story to the point where you can't help but become emotionally involved. My heart ached for Jonah and his sister, it broke with Esther and it was shredded with Eugene.

Each character has something going on in their life that can be somehow related to the curse. But as we find out, these issues were never about the curse. If you look for these patterns, you will find them. Everyone has something they don't like going on in their life - that's not a curse, it's not a plot point, it's just life. Throughout the course of the book, Esther learns this and comes to better understand her own life and the lives of those around her.

Overall, this was a deeply moving and important story about mental illness and the ways in which it is a part of everyday life.