A while ago, I read Adam Silvera’s YA novel They Both Die at the End. And I loved it. It was such a different book, with such a difficult theme: death. Yet Silvera made the book about living and love, and not about dying. So, obviously I had to read more from the man. I bought History is all you left me to see if I could be swept away again by Silvera. And yes, as it turns out, I could.
Is this some novel about history?
No, obviously not. It’s a Young Adult novel with somewhat the same theme as They Both Die. It’s about loss, mourning and friendship. But also about love, life and death. As usual, let’s visit our friends over at Goodreads for a short recap of the plot:
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.
To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.
If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.
So while this is not about history in the likes of Henry VIII or World War II, it is about history, albeit the history between two people. It’s about Griffin’s history with Theo, as well as his present without him.
Mostly, in Young Adult novels, the main characters are straight. Luckily for there LGBTQ community, there are authors like Adam Silvera. In They Both Die the two main characters were gay and bi. In History is all you left me, the only POV character, Griffin, is gay. His recently deceased boyfriend Theo was bi, and his latest boyfriend Jackson is also gay. So there’s a huge representation going on here, without ever making it different from other YA love stories. These are just people in love. To throw in some more diversity, Theo’s best friend is a person of color.
What I also loved about the characters, is that Griffin’s parents are still in love, and they love their son. I hate it that in soooooo many YA novels, either the parents are total dickheads, or one of them is dead. Theo’s parents are also still together and very loving. Both parent duo’s are accepting of their sons and it’s just so great to see positive, lovable parents in a setting like this. It just goes to show a decent YA book doesn’t need to have main protagonists who have issues with their parents, or are mourning one of them.
OCD done right
More praise coming! Sometimes, mental disorders are ‘just there’ or are written as ‘funny’. Not Adam Silvera though. Griffin has OCD, which gets worse due to Theo’s death. He has to think and act in even numbers, except for 1 and 7, which are acceptable odd numbers. He also always has to walk, sit and stand on the left side of other people. And there are more, smaller, things. This is never written off as funny or as a stupid disorder. Silver treats this very seriously.
I love it that Griffin has this disorder. I myself have slight OCD (nothing near as bad as Griffin though) so I loved reading about his thoughts and the way he works. It was also great to see how each of his friends and his parents deal with his illness in their own way.
History remains with the people who will appreciate it most.
But mostly, History is all you left me is about mourning and going on with your life. Griffin has to deal with it his own way. The story unfolds as history and present day are told by his POV and both times catch up to each other. You get to read about what happened, how Griffin copes with everything and how the people around him deal with their own loss, and with Griffin himself. The book starts a couple of days after Theo’s death in the present, and at the time Griffin and Theo started dating, about 1,5 years ago.
History is all you left me: conclusion
+ Diversity to the max
+ Mental illness done right
+ Great cast of characters
+ Excellent writing, superb themes
– Towards the end it all felt a bit rushed
– Not completely believable at some points
– That ‘twist’ was too much
Bear in mind: this is a sad book, much sadder than They Both Die. If you don’t want a book filled with sadness, start with They Both Die and not History is all you left me. But if you’re looking for a book with a diverse and great cast, with well rounded themes and great writing, give this a go. I’m sure to pick up More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. And then I’m done with his standalone novels and I’ll have to wait in agony for his collaboration with Becky Albertalli, What if it’s us, which comes out later this year.
People are complicated puzzles, always trying to piece together a complete picture, but sometimes we get it wrong and sometimes we’re left unfinished. Sometimes that’s for the best. Some pieces can’t be forced into a puzzle, or at least they shouldn’t be, because they won’t make sense.