History Is All You Left Me Review
History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera: My Review
History is nothing. It can be recycled or thrown away completely. It isn't this sacred treasure chest I mistook it to be. We were something, but history isn't enough to keep something alive forever.
This is the first book I've read by Adam Silvera and I LOVED it. Smart, funny and heartbreaking, History Is All You Left Me is a character-driven novel focusing on grief and the process of trying to figure yourself out while reeling from the loss of the person closest to you.
The story is told by Griffin as he comes to terms with the death of his best friend and first love, Theo. There is a complex web of relationships at play as we are also introduced to Theo's new boyfriend from California, Jackson, and the third member of their friendship group, Wade. Theo was the group's anchor and so they all find themselves in varying states of confusion and helplessness without him. Griffin is especially torn between his dislike for Jackson and the feeling that he can relate to him most of all.
Silvera has an extremely personal voice that shines through the narrative, making it rich in emotion and authenticity. It could be that he is just very gifted at putting himself in other people's minds, but the story does feels exclusive to experience, told by someone who is not a stranger to love and loss. He is clearly a master at writing tender characters who are broken and damaged but slowly trying to piece themselves back together, as well as showing mental illness exactly as it manifests in real life through Griffin who suffers with OCD. History Is All You Left Me is also a fantastic own-voices novel for the LGBTQIAP+ community, featuring representation of both gay and bisexual boys - the relationships between the characters seemed very healthy, portraying sexuality in such a positive, casual light, and it was great to see teens have same-sex sex safely and without shame.
The way Silvera crafts his characters was so smart as my feelings on almost all of them changed a lot as I got further into the story. Ones I was indifferent to in the beginning ended up becoming my favorites, most noticeably Wade who grew to be an absolute gem and I loved him. Throughout the first three quarters or so of the book I didn't care for him too much, until he began to play a much more significant role in the story and I found myself on the verge of tears so many times when reading about him. I really appreciated how all of the characters were flawed and problematic in some way as it just made them all the more real and lovable. For example, I sometimes had a lot of trouble agreeing with Griffin and how he dealt with his situation - he takes his bad days out on people who don't deserve it and constantly makes mistakes he can't come back from. However, I really enjoyed how this challenged me as a reader and allowed me to comprehend the vulnerability of grief which made it an incredibly valuable story. Connecting to Griffin was effortless as his OCD quirks and nerdy sense of humour breathed so much life into his character. Another thing that Silvera succeeded at brilliantly was allowing the reader to get to know every single character individually and not letting them be defined just by their connection to the protagonist - they each had their own unique interests and battles, even Theo who is not even alive in the book yet painted so vividly through Griffin's revealing of their history together that his presence is still felt.
I also thought the structure of the novel was a fantastic choice, flipping between chapters set in the present ('Today') and chapters set in the past ('History'). I enjoyed both timeframes equally - the closer together they got, the sadder and more apprehensive I became and I loved how emotional the reading experience was. The unreliable narration also allows the story to unfold in a way that is unpredictable, exposing sudden flaws of the characters, and (as cliche as it sounds) it really does feel as though you are inside Griffin's head, experiencing his journey of grief and growing alongside him.
I suppose the main thing that really hit me hard about this story was being confronted with how all of our actions make footprints in the lives of other people to an extent that we often may not realise. Griffin's perception of Theo as he rewrites their history is so tangible, almost unrealistically so, that it made me hope I will never be the source of negative suffering for anyone because his pain is so evident on every page. A big overarching message I also took from History Is All You Left Me was that there is absolutely nothing pathetic about grief, and that no matter how transient the situation might be, you should allow yourself to ache even when others expect you to move on. There is no time stamp on when you're supposed to stop; you can only try and be gentle with yourself in the meantime.
Overall, I'm really glad I finally picked up History Is All You Left Me and was able to experience such a beautiful and valuable story. Adam Silvera is extremely talented and I can't wait to read everything else he writes.