Published by: SOHO Teen
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: Adam Silvera has injected both speed and steroids into his craft since writing More Happy Than Not and poured it into this sophomore effort. This book was made to break your heart.
Plot: From the New York Times bestselling author of More Happy Than Not comes an explosive examination of grief, mental illness, and the devastating consequences of refusing to let go of the past.
When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.
To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.
If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.
It hurts more when you’re the one left behind.
Had Griffin only been left behind once, the story would have been a different one. But it didn’t just happen once. It happened three times and each of these was progressively worse.
1. Theo moved from New York to California for school.
2. Theo started dating Jackson.
3. Theo died.
The first two were difficult but as Griffin and Theo were each other’s end game, they would be together again and the universe — their universe — restored to its rightful place. But that last one took the end game went with it and nothing would be the same again.
The number three is telling. There are three tells to his growing obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are three friends in their squad. There are three people in Griffin’s family. He may or may not be the third in a long distance love triangle. Three is an odd number and odd numbers make Griffin deeply uncomfortable. By extension, the reader is as well. It is, like his use of first person point of view, one of many ways Silvera brings the reader into Griffin’s world. And so we follow, unwittingly, going along with his reasoning and his mistakes and his efforts to find a way to hold on as time continues to move forward.
To the point above. In other situations — the number of choices he makes about his day, songs he listens to, things picked up by others while shopping — he resolves potential disasters by adding one more thing to the list. It is his way of gaining control of a situation. He waits for the even minute to make calls. He picks up on the even ring. Calls that last an even number of minutes are somehow better than the ones that last for an odd number of minutes. This series of ‘three’ is never acknowledged by Griffin. Only after the three have been revealed to the reader do we learn that Griffin inadvertently added a fourth: Griffin broke up with Theo first.
The break-up for Griffin was a technical one. Theo takes up the distance Griffin has given him: the first morning without a text, the first time he was late to a Skype date, the first time the ‘date’ became a ‘hang-out’ but Griffin never believed in the break-up. In his head, Theo’s still his guy and his true love. Even in death.
History Is All You Left Me begins with Griffin speaking with Theo on the day of Theo’s funeral. The structure of the book is reflected on the cover: The right-side-up boy in the night under a crescent moon with the text “History Is All You Left” represents Griffin’s crisis (his dark night of the soul, if you will) that begins with Theo’s funeral. The upside-down sunshine boy with the text “Me” begins the day that Theo and Griffin come out to each other and get together. This is also the day that Griffin reveals that his ticks and quirks may be more than that.
The universe-flipped imagery references a theory on the multiverse (multiple universes). Theo is the mastermind of alternate universes; Griffin opts into them. But the story isn’t really about Theo — it’s about Griffin. And the two storylines aren’t referencing alternate universes so much as it reflects an alternate Griffins: one with Theo and one without.
Do you see now how devastating this will be?
Without Theo, all Griffin has left is their history. Since Theo is all he wants, who he loves more than anything, what Griffin wants (needs?) to hold on to, he puts their history on repeat (note: repeat is one of his tells). In real time (the upright side), Griffin takes Theo through their history (the flip side) and brings us along for the ride. We fall in love with them, learning about sex and life and coming out and school and decisions and the consequences of all of these things along the way.
Enter Jackson, Theo’s boyfriend at the time Theo died. At first, he’s non-threatening because he’s only a fake-Griffin. But when the two boys turn to each other in grief, Griffin has to come to terms with what it would mean if Jackson was more than a copy.
Then, there is Griffin’s growing OCD, of the comfort he seeks in specific actions and thoughts, and of how the people in his life engage with him on this issue. Theo makes allowances. Jackson is accommodating as he learns about them. Griffin’s parents pick their battles.
Then there is Wade.
Wade is the third member of their best-friend squad who is marginalized first when Griffin and Theo become a couple and a second time in Griffin’s grief. Wade is Griffin’s agent of change and he emerges as a thoughtful, strong, and constant friend in tries to help Griffin to move forward. But Griffin doesn’t want to move forward; he wants to live in the past. With Theo. The Theo that has already left him.
Griffin may have moved on despite himself. This is his greatest betrayal. This is where his guilt meets his grief. He is conflicted and confused. After all, when history is all you’re left with, how can you possibly live anywhere else?
What you might not like/doesn’t work for you: For those reading in public, the pitying looks you get from strangers as you fail to be subtle in emoting may not work for you. In my case, ‘public’ meant while flying cross-country. My neighbor was already leaning toward the window when the flight attendant came down the aisle to ask what we wanted to drink. I said I wanted coffee; she looked at my face and said, “I’ll put on a new pot.” Then she gave me a chaser. Ultimately, I came out ahead.
Perhaps for you, your struggle will come when you realize that you can no longer use the tissue within arms distance and have to get up in order to get more. Worse — what if you had to go to the store for replenishments? Then again, you may decide (after all no one is around) that it is okay to use a paper towel. Or your sleeve. Or the family pet. Really, I can’t know what your struggle will be — only that you will have one.
What you will love: History Is All You Left Me is exquisite. When everything is done so well, it is difficult to pull out the specifics but there are a lot of them. The characters are fully realized, imperfect and lovable, each continuing to reveal new parts of themselves as the book moves forward. Silvera’s treatment of Griffin’s OCD (to my teacher-trained eye…which is cursory at best) is believable and appropriate. Neither the queer aspect or the mental illness aspect of Griffin or his story is overpowering but each plays a crucial role. This book is expertly developed and delivered and one of the best I have ever read.
Alex claims to read more than any normal, healthy adult should though the rest of the Binge on Books team would beg to differ. You can read all of his reviews here.
Connect with Alex on Twitter: @Alex_deMorra