What happens to us when the love of our life dies unexpectedly? How do we process our grief knowing that we will never be able to speak to them directly or hear them respond? And, what happens if this love was dating someone else when they died?
These are the provocative central questions at the heart of Adam Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me. Written from the perspective of seventeen year-old high school senior, Griffin, the novel oscillates back and forth between the present in the aftermath of the passing of Griffin’s first love and the past history of their relationship, from their first date through the accident that separated them forever. Griffin, an introverted teenager who struggles to manage his overwhelming obsessive compulsive disorder, is enthralled by the charismatic and outgoing Theo, and when the two of them decide to take the next step from being friends to boyfriends, they find a love within each other that is kind, supportive, and everlasting. That is, until Theo moves away from their home in New York to California to start college and begins dating Jackson, thrusting Griffin into the role of supportive best friend – a role he had agreed to play, yet struggles with as he envisions his path and Theo’s eventually realigning. When Theo drowns while at the beach, Griffin and Jackson’s lives are thrust together back in New York in the wake of his funeral. Can two people who loved the same boy be friends as they navigate their shared grief, or will their separate and competing histories tear them apart? Griffin, who speaks directly to Theo during the moments of the novel that are set in the present, grapples with his unwanted relationship with Jackson, but learns that there may be some benefit in spending time with the only other person who understands what he is going through.
For anyone who has ever lost someone, this is a challenging, gut-wrenching, cathartic, beautiful tale of how viscerally powerful grief is. There are moments in the text where Griffin’s loss is so real that it is hard to continue reading, and in that way Silvera has brilliantly realized the theme of grief through his writing. As a young person navigating the murky waters of belonging, mental illness, and loss, Griffin is a well-rendered character through whom many adolescent readers, male and female, queer and straight, can see parts of their selves and their struggles reflected through. For those who feel alone and who feel like they have nothing left, Silvera reminds us that even in the wake of sadness and isolation, the essential tools to rebuild our lives, though they may not change our circumstances, lie within us. When everything in our lives seems uncertain, we are reminded, as Griffin learns, that we are our own “compass arrow[s], trying to find [our] true north, (233).
By: Josh Quinones
Silvera, Adam. History Is All You Left Me. Soho Teen, 2017.