Title: My Heart and Other Black Holes
Author: Jasmine Warga
Length: 8 hours
Narrator: Rebecca Lowman
Original Publication Date: 2015
Genre(s): Young adult, Contemporary, Realistic fiction
Sixteen-year-old Aysel wants to die, but she doesn’t think she can do it alone. Via an online forum for people searching for suicide partners, Aysel finds Roman. Roman is crippled with guilt and haunted by a family tragedy, just like Aysel. So the two make a suicide pact—they plan to jump off a cliff together in the beginning of April. But as the days dwindle, Aysel isn’t so sure she wants to die anymore. And what’s worse is that she doesn’t want Roman to die, either. Can she break their pact without breaking her heart?
**MILD SPOILERS AHEAD**
I try to make my reviews as spoiler-free as possible. I won’t go too far into details, but I do give away some minor details about the plot and characters, so be warned…
So. Teenagers with suicide pacts: what a great topic! …Yeah, no.
Seriously, though, I had my reservations about reading this novel. Suicide is a serious subject. It’s not easy to talk about, let alone write about. I was worried this novel would romanticize suicide and depression, or maybe take it too lightly. Surprisingly, it didn’t.
The novel is told in first-person from Aysel’s perspective. Each chapter is a countdown to April 7th, the day Aysel and Roman plan on dying. The novel starts out a little trivial—this girl wants to kill herself and is looking through online forums for a suicide partner, and it all just seemed so ridiculous to me. Like, I’ve been pretty low, but even in those low times, I never thought to hop on my laptop and see if anyone wanted to kill themselves with me. I can’t imagine being so…selfish. If I wanted to kill myself, I don’t think I could take anyone down with me like that. I realize this other person also wants to die, but why be a vessel for them? How could you assist someone with that? I just don’t think I could. So immediately I was a little annoyed with Aysel and Roman. But I got past that, and I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed watching their relationship blossom.
Aysel was an interesting character to watch evolve. This book gets a lot of hate because it romanticizes suicide and talks about how love is what ultimately saves Aysel. But that’s absolute bullshit, and if you actually read the novel, you would know.
Aysel starts to change her mind about committing suicide. Roman says Aysel’s sadness and understanding of his sadness makes her beautiful. But Aysel disagrees:
“Anyone who has actually been that sad can tell you that there’s nothing beautiful or literary or mysterious about depression.”
She shuts that shit down. She sees that sadness is ugly, and that she and Roman share the same ugliness, not beauty. So no, I don’t think the novel is romanticizing depression. The main character is very against that idea.
And no, love does not save Aysel. Roman’s kiss does not erase her depression. What saves her is seeing herself through someone else’s eyes. Recognizing that she has so much life left to live. So many more experiences. She she’s that she can be hopeful. And yeah, she has feelings for Roman, but she knows that love isn’t something that can save you. Love isn’t the reason to live:
“I’m not asking you to live for me. Even though that would be nice because I’m in love with you. And yeah, yeah, you can tell me I’m misusing that word, but I don’t care. That’s how I feel. But this isn’t even about me, or how I feel about you. I want you to live for you because I know there’s so much more waiting for you. There’s so much more for you to discover and experience. And you deserve it, you might not think you do, but you do. I’m here to tell you that you deserve it. And I know I sound cheesy as hell. Believe me, six weeks ago, I would’ve slapped myself for saying shit like this, but knowing you… Knowing you has helped me see things differently. See myself differently. And all I want is for you to see yourself the way that I do.”
If you actually read the novel, you would see it’s not as trivial as the beginning leads you to believe. And everyone hating the book for romanticizing mental illness didn’t actually finish the story, it seems.
So, like I was saying, it’s interesting to not only watch Aysel and Roman grow closer together, but it’s also interesting to see how Aysel grows as a character. In the beginning, she kept referring to future events as meaningless because she’ll “be gone,” rather than actually saying “dead.” And towards the end of the novel, I think death becomes a more concrete thing to her, and it’s scary. She really grows, and yeah, she’s still sad. She still struggles. But she’s trying, and that’s what matters.
I liked Roman a little less than I liked Aysel. He was so hot and cold—one minute he was all cutesy with Aysel, and the next he was pissed off with his arms crossed, demanding to be taken home. He was constantly saying rude things to Aysel, and it was annoying. When he was being cute, it was cute. But he kept saying about their relationship, ‘this doesn’t change anything, I still want to die.’ And it reminded me of Me Before You, only the super YA version and not as sad. But what really annoyed me about Roman was that, even though he could see Aysel slowly start to find reasons to live—find reasons to not jump off a fucking cliff with him—he would still get mad at her! He’d call her a “flake” and that made me so mad. Like, you want this girl to die??? Again, I don’t understand the whole suicide pact thing. I would never ever want to help someone commit suicide. It’s basically murdering someone. Sorry.
I did like the ending, though. I wasn’t sure how it was going to end, but it didn’t disappoint me. I may not have loved the novel, but I didn’t hate it, and I don’t want to see people hating it for the wrong reasons. Read the book before you post thoughts about it. (That’s why I try to never DNF a book, and if I do, I don’t review it.) The novel did surprise me, and I’m glad the author found a way to write about such a hard topic without making me cringe too hard.
And speaking of the writing, it really wasn’t that bad for Warga’s first novel. She is really good at dialogue. I would probably read another of her works if she ever publishes something.
So, if you’re hesitant to read My Heart and Other Black Holes because you think it romanticizes mental illness, fear not: it does not. And though it is problematic in some way, it is a good read. I recommend it.
–“Depression is like a heaviness that you can’t ever escape. It crushes down on you, making even the smallest things like tying your shoes or chewing on toast seem like a twenty-mile hike uphill. Depression is a part of you; it’s in your bones and your blood.”
–“I wonder if that’s how darkness wins, by convincing us to trap it inside ourselves, instead of emptying it out.”