Book Title: History Is All You Left Me Author: Adam Silvera Number of pages: 320
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.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– History features prose that’s uncomplicated, effusive, and direct, speaking volumes to the quiet power this story has.
– Uncomplicated setting that feels real even if there’s limited description to build New York
– OCD is heavily mentioned but is not the focus; Griffin’s grieving may come off as whiny/wallowing to readers
– Side characters might not be the most fleshed out and can lack overall value; same with some revelations
I know what you’re thinking: “what the fuck, Joey rated a book 4+?!“
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of History is All You Left Me from Chapters Indigo.
History is All You Left Me is very plain, all kinds of messy, and delivers a story rich with life and character despite not much of anything plot-wise aside from the difficult simplicity of a mundane life.
With grief being the obstacle and focal point, Silvera handles the highs-and-lows of relationships with commanding poise as it never lacked the authenticity of the adolescent voice. Simply put: there’s a rawness in the dialogue that just rolls off the tongue. It’s aptly resilient and hopeful, and I cannot commend the story for achieving what I think it set out to achieve.
It’s not meant to be perfect.
It’s just meant to be just, and that’s pretty damn bittersweet, yeah?
The bulk of this story takes place in and around the hustle and bustle of a suburban neighbourhood within the metropolis of New York City (also California). While I can’t comment as to its accuracy, nothing was unordinary. The subway grind was present, the unwritten street grime was vividly brought into my imagery, and the pockets of perspectives and memories in which we follow Griffin through felt easy to read.
What’s most striking to me is that so much of this does read fictionally autobiographical at times. I’m not pretending I know where Silvera has lived but places ring true, and he doesn’t dabble too much with world building. It is a city. It is an apartment. It is cold and there is snow. You fill in the void yourself, and that’s what allows this story to feel incredibly real — that you can almost know the place without ever having been there.
I mean…those who prefer canon descriptions may disagree with this but to allow reader-me to render the setting using faux-NYC vibes from other visual mediums in film and television eases the strain on having to build an incredibly fleshed out world when it’s already omnipresent in my mind. That is the strength to the setting.
History is paced arduously slow with grief being the driving force behind how the story unravels. The protagonist is incredibly whiny and cranky…but that’s the necessary tone and mood put forward by his perspective. It can be burdensome, yes, but Griffin’s pain is justified even if it’s less than ideal. But who’s judging? Not I or you of course.
Speaking specifically to the OCD, it was great that these compulsions of Griffin’s were fluidly woven into the story and not passed off as a one-off in a situation and never seen again. And even so, they weren’t necessarily the focus either. Even the preference of where he objectively positions himself in relation to someone else brought up questions for me (re: he prefers to be on the right, but how would he drive?) is answered. Like is Silvera a wizard for knowing I would ask this? I cannot say.
All of this is to say the simplicity in pose is captivating. Not juvenile per se but the ease to which each word felt handpicked; uncomplicated, effusive, and direct, speaks volumes to the quiet power this story has. That’s what I’d class this as — Quiet YA (but not in the traditional sense) — where a lot happens in small pockets of moments. The dialogue on top of this is just superb.
Also: I should note that I think Silvera spoils moments from popular pop culture. Namely Harry Potter. So there’s that.
History is a fully character driven novel presented through a 2nd POV storytelling (?). What’s great is that I rarely doubted Griffin and his actions. They might not have been the best [most rational] choices, but even with his narrative unreliability in either withholding information or presenting a skewed story (as it may or may not relate to his OCD), it never felt out of place or disingenuous.
However, there are main supporting roles with relationships that didn’t work for me over-and-beyond being a vehicle to push the story forward. I speak vaguely on this matter because it’s a revelation that occurs near the end. I just was unable to buy into the necessity that character’s arc be pushed in that direction. Further, there are side characters that lacked value as well; which made me elicit a “what’s the point of this?”.
I need to speak about the parents in History because, without a doubt, they are one of the best aspects in this story. It’s a tough battle for them to oscillate between knowing their son’s debilitating mental illness and supporting his sexual discovery but their struggle was never in spite of Griffin as a person or his grieving but rather ordinary parental concerns that came full circle back to his own safety and well being. This is parental acceptance at its best.
Adam Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me is young adult realistic fiction at its best. This story reads simple but the authenticity in voice is steeped in layers of intersectionality that I find it hard pressed to not recommend this book to everyone. Though it is easy to discount Griffin’s struggles and grieving process as a wallowing mess, what I cannot do is write off this/his view.
History is real, then and now, and then some more.