Monday, March 26, 2018

Everything Here is Beautiful

Title:  Everything Here is Beautiful
Author:  Mira T. Lee
Publication Information:  Pamela Dorman Books. 2018. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0735221960 / 978-0735221963

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "A summer day in New Jersey."

Favorite Quote:  "How trite, but true:  things change. Some all at once, some over a lifetime."

Everything Here is Beautiful a story of the bond between sisters; Miranda and Lucia are sisters who suffer many losses in their young lives. The book is also is the story of immigrants as the main characters are Chinese-Americans and other relationships in the book lead to other immigrant stories. Ultimately, though, this book is a story of mental illness and its far reaching effects on the individuals and those who love them. In that, this book is a heartbreaking story. Lucia lives with her illness and its ramifications, and the people who love her want to help and try to help but are often left watching helplessly.

Miranda and Lucia lose their mother at a young age. Miranda is the older one; Lucia is the unpredictable and impulsive one. Miranda feels responsible for her younger sister, but at times, is forced to walk away to preserve her own life. Love for her sister keeps drawing her back, trying to help.

Lucia's relationships lead to many who love her and want to care for her. One leads her to Manny, a young Latino man. He cares for Lucia and their baby daughter. Miranda and Lucia's Chinese heritage and Lucia's relationship with Manny bring the conversation surrounding immigration - both legal and illegal - into this book. The supporting characters carry this story line further.

Lucia's story is the story of mental illness. Her character and behavior changes diametrically due to her illness and due to her choices about medication. She manages loving relationships and pushes those same people away. She achieves some stability and then destroys it with actions driven by her illness. This is the heartbreak both for her and for those who love her. So, why then, does the book not resonate more emotionally with me? Several reasons.

The narration of the book moves between time periods and narrators, making the story at times difficult to follow and the emotional thread even harder to hold on to. I suppose the intent is to capture the impact of mental illness from different perspectives and to document the emotional toll on the caregivers. Unfortunately, the number of jumps in time and perspective seem just too many.

The bond between sisters is a key element of this book; yet, for most of the book, a great distance exists between the sisters. The book follows Lucia with Miranda appearing at the need arises. Perhaps, that is indicative of the relationship due to Lucia's illness. However, as a reader, the strong bond needs to be fully visible and established for the resulting distance to have impact.

The story of immigration becomes a focal point in the book, distracting from and competing with the depiction of Lucia's story. The book introduces the struggles of Miranda and Lucia's mother as a single parent and a new immigrant. With Manny and his friends, the book goes into the fears of those without legal immigrant status to the point of incidents with law enforcement and the resulting consequences. While these are important issues, they are not really part of the story of Lucia's illness.

For these reasons, a potentially powerful book about mental illness and its impacts conveys the idea but not its full emotional impact.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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