BookBrowse Reviews History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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History Is All You Left Me

by Adam Silvera

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera X
History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 304 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2018, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Bradley Sides
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An explosive examination of grief, mental illness, and the devastating consequences of refusing to let go of the past.

As our lives tick away, our web of connections grows. We meet new people daily. Some of them fade from our minds quickly, but some people stay with us. To what degree does each eventual connection – each friendship, each relationship – mold us? And how much can their memories impact our own futures? These questions are at the heart of Adam Silvera's triumphant sophomore young adult novel, History is All You Left Me.

The story's concept is deceptively simple. Griffin and Theo, two high school students in New York, meet and fall in love. Their relationship seems perfect, beaming with fun and kindness. They go out. They go to school. Their world seems unbreakable. Then, separation creeps into the picture. Theo is a near genius, one teacher calls him a "wunderkind," and he goes to college early in California to reap whatever opportunities he can find. While away, though, the unthinkable happens. Theo drowns, leaving Griffin totally devastated.

Silvera breaks History is All You Left Me into two very distinct planes – one in the past and one in the present. The chapters alternate between the two. The sections set in the past predominately tell a love story. And a first-love love story at that. Silvera captures the beginning of love's playfulness perfectly. In one scene, Griffin, who is obsessed with Harry Potter, and Theo, who is a devout Star Wars fan, are giving each other a hard time about their geek levels, when Griffin says about Theo, "He's the only sixteen-year-old human I know who isn't caught up on everyone's favorite boy wizard. One night we argued for a solid hour over who would win in a duel between Lord Voldemort and Darth Vader. I'm surprised we're still friends.' It's quick lines such as this that give the novel such a rush of pleasant realism and authenticity.

The present, though, is something else entirely different. These chapters serve as deep (and often very dark) meditations on loss, death, and memory. Silvera doesn't shy away from exploring true depression either. Griffin struggles to live. He can't perform basic everyday tasks without thinking of Theo. The memories they made together haunt his entire life. At one point, Griffin is in such a dark place that his father suggests he switch schools – hoping that by not reliving his history with Theo in the hallways everyday that he might be able to better deal with school. Griffin's response is stark. He says, "Transferring is too easy. I've thought about it too, but it feels wrong. Like I'm trying to forget him." Later, Griffin remarks on how he, himself, feels dead from Theo's death: "I don't know what will be left of me if love and grief can't bring you back to life. Maybe I need to be brought back to life, too." Griffin's pain bleeds through the novel's pages.

There are unexpected twists and surprises along the way, which add to the believability of the story. Silvera more than proves himself here as a writer who can work wonders with his pen. While it has so many successes, the highlight of History is All You Left Me is Griffin's characterization. From the opening pages, I felt like I knew him, and I was always rooting for him. Most of the book is, indeed, about him dealing with the memories (and history) of his beloved Theo, but there's also a minor subplot about Griffin's obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD, See Beyond the Book), which makes for some riveting scenes. He describes his OCD: "You know how lately I'm always forcing my way onto everyone's left side? It wasn't like that when we were kids. There's also my counting thing, where I prefer everything to be an even number, with a couple of exceptions, like one and seven. Volume, the timer on the microwave, how many chapters I read before putting a book down, even how many examples I use in a sentence. It's distracting, and I always feel on." As Griffin descends into more and more darkness following Theo's death, his OCD gets progressively worse.

History is All You Left Me isn't just for readers looking for a good love story. No, Silvera's book is too good for that kind of narrow definition. Instead, it is for those of us who sometimes can't let go of our past, and for those of us who feel like we might be on the outside, looking in. And, really, isn't that all of us?

Reviewed by Bradley Sides

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in February 2017, and has been updated for the February 2018 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  OCD in Young Adult Literature

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