A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.
Source: ARC from the publisher 😀
Hello blogglings! I know I haven’t been present in the blogosphere for the past couple weeks, and I PROMISE it is for good reason! But now that I have a little more time, I am back. I was recently out with the flu and couldn’t even bring myself to check Goodreads because the light hurt my eyes so much (quelle horreur!), but when I finally did check it I realized that When Reason Breaks came out on February 10th!
HAS ANYONE TALKED ABOUT DIVERSITY LATELY??
Because it is FABULOUS in this book. I think a lot of people push for “diversity” in YA, because it is so influential over the lives of young people… but sometimes that only focuses on having black or Asian or LGBTQ+ characters. I found WRB quite different from the traditional “diverse book” because it featured a group that is often overlooked in English literature: people of Mexican descent. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. Emily’s father is the MAYOR. Emily gets good grades. I think that there are a lot of stereotypes about Hispanics, at least in the area in which I live. There are lots of stereotypes along the vein of “Mexicans aren’t good at school” and “All Hispanics are gang members,” but WRB goes to show that that is simply not true. Emily is arguably the character with the best grades in the entirety of this novel. Which is great. It sends a hugely empowering message to young Hispanic girls in America: they can do it. Diversity doesn’t stop there, either. Emily’s boyfriend’s parents are gay, meaning that he has two dads. And what’s fantastic is that Emily doesn’t treat them any differently than she would treat her boyfriend’s parents if they were straight. The two dads were not portrayed as “overly feminine,” as many gay men in media are, but were just presented as people, without their orientation defining them.
Overall, I think I connected with Elizabeth better than Emily.
While both of the girls had different, relatable traits, I overall liked Elizabeth better than Emily simply because I feel she was more fleshed-out. Her psychology and reasoning behind why she would do something or the other was so much clearer. Plus, she liked Abby from NCIS. And Caf-Pow. I appreciate this greatly.
All of that being said, I really didn’t like Emily’s relationship with her boyfriend and friends.
While in some aspects this is a very empowering book, in other aspects, it is not. Kevin, Emily’s boyfriend, is not very well characterized at all. I felt that he was really flat and two-dimensional, and Emily risking her father’s “terrifying wrath” to be with him was simply not realistic. Abby… was just not a great friend. A good friend is supposed to be there for you, point you in the right direction when you go astray, and help you through your issues—not make you terrified and depressed like Abby makes Emily. Throughout the book, Abby just pushes Emily to date Kevin against her father’s wishes, drink, go to parties, and basically do anything and everything her father forbids. She wants to dictate Emily’s life so that they’re practically the same person, which would’ve been okay if that was resolved. What frustrated me was that even though Emily realized this and acknowledged it openly, she just states that she hopes they can be really good friends again. Like, really?
I loved Ms. Diaz. She had her own character growth, and although she was a side character, she was still important in her own right. For example, although we see much of the book from Emily’s and Elizabeth’s perspectives, we get to see the “mystery” of who will attempt suicide through Ms. Diaz’s eyes. Ms. Diaz, Emily, and Elizabeth each represented a separate part of Emily Dickinson. In fact, every single character in the book corresponded to a significant part of Dickinson’s life, and her poetry is used a lot. (There’s a really cool author’s note at the back of the book which explains who represents what.)
Also… I guessed the ending.
Okay, well, I’ll admit it—you have a 50/50 chance of guessing who’s going to commit suicide before you even read the first page. BUT STILL. It sort of took some of the thrill out of the book, and the idea behind it. I still liked how the suicidal thoughts were treated as a process, or a monster: ED (whichever one committed the suicide) had a slowly-developing thought process that kept going from bad to worse. And we never really get to see her get over that at all, which, from what I’ve heard from those who are suicidal, is a pretty accurate depiction.
Overall, I think this is a great diverse book, and it has some really nice themes. I liked the incorporation of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, but some of the writing style got to me, as a lot of it was told and not shown, and I didn’t like how Emily treats her unhealthy relationships in the book. I really loved Elizabeth’s characterization throughout the book, but I felt that Emily and her boyfriend Kevin were both a little two-dimensional.
3.5/5 Wagging Tails