Book review: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa
A captivating and profound debut novel about complicated love and the friendships that have the power to transform you forever, perfect for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Mira is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.
Jeremy is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting this blond, lanky boy with mischief glinting in his eye.
Sebby, Mira’s gay best friend, is a boy who seems to carry sunlight around with him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.
As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.
I’m not entirely sure what I had expected when I picked this book up. I knew it had LGBTQIA+ characters, so it went on my list as something I hoped to get time to read. I loved the cover. I heard some chatter about bisexual characters or a polyamorous relationship. For some reason I had the ideas “fun” and “love story” in my brain. The ideas in my head/the chatter I’d heard ended up being almost entirely wrong. Once I divested myself of those false ideas, I was able to enjoy this for the rather bleak book that it was. Usually I think comparisons to other books are generally inaccurate or forced, but the comparison here to The Perks of Being a Wallflower is dead on.
What the publisher’s description doesn’t tell you is the full scope of issues the characters are dealing with. After the local paper ran a wedding announcement for Jeremy’s dads, he was the victim of homophobic bullying and hate crimes at school. His peers accused him of being gay, because his dads are. While that logic, of course, makes no sense, in Jeremy’s case, it turned out to be true: he’s pretty sure he is gay. His only refuge at school is hanging out in cool teacher Peter’s office and hiding. Peter encourages him to start an art club, which is how he meets Mira and Sebby.
Mira missed a year of school and is starting over at Jeremy’s school. She was hospitalized for depression and a suicide attempt. She mentions having chronic fatigue syndrome (though we don’t hear much about that) and that she’s fat. Her mother has her on some strict food-elimination diet, I guess as a way to try and treat the depression or the chronic fatigue. That’s not really delved into much either–Mira just mentions it repeatedly. Mira feels inferior to her amazing sister and it’s clear that her parents don’t understand her depression well and are not doing all they can to help her. They’re not really doing anything, actually, except ignoring her sadness and making her feel like she should just get over it.
Then there’s Sebby. Mira and Sebby met in the psych ward, after Mira was hospitalized for her suicide attempt. Sebby had initially been in the hospital after being brutally beaten by some homophobic classmates and got moved to the psych ward after he made plans to kill himself. I spent about the first half of the book laughing a lot at his little quips. He’s the fun, daring friend who says what other people might think but would never say out loud. He and Jeremy start hooking up eventually, but it’s hardly a love story. Sebby is a mess. He mostly avoids his foster home, never goes to school, and begins to head down a very dark path when he starts hanging out with Nick, the local drug dealer.
The plot revolves around the many ways these characters lean on each other during their struggles. Mira’s depression continues. Sebby is completely falling apart. Jeremy is glad to finally have friends and does his best to care for them, but the help they need is bigger than anything he is equipped to offer. While the three friends (and some side characters) hang out and banter, their despair is always just under the surface.
At one point, Sebby tells Mira, “Speak the name of that which you must defeat.”
Mira says, “The demons of sadness. The aches of daily life. The reasons not to live.”
For Jeremy, his answer is “being afraid. ”
“Being alone,” Sebby offers as his own demon.
Jeremy has two great dads, but I spent a lot of this book wanting to yell at the other adults, even the ones who are trying to help. Most of my anger was reserved for Mira’s dad. At one point she asks to be allowed to go away for part of the summer and have fun. What follows wins the 2015 award for the I’m Having a Rage Blackout from Your Terrible Parenting medal.
“I think you probably had enough fun when you spent nine months not going to school,” her dad tells her.
“You think that was fun? You think depression was, like, a laugh riot?”
Her father continues, “We have been very patient with you, and now that you are better you are going to need to deal with the consequences of that missed time.”
“Consequences? Seriously? You realize you are basically punishing me for something that I have no control over.”
“Obviously you have some control over it,” her father says.
(Note to self: Come back to this book for our 2016 Mental Health in YA Lit project.)
Mira is not “better.” None of the three of them are really anything that could be passed off as “fine” or “okay.” Things get dark quickly. Mira’s depression worsens, Sebby gets kicked out of his house and starts doing a lot of coke, cool teacher Peter lands himself in hot water for his relationships with his students, and Jeremy tries to help everyone but mostly just feels terrible about all of it. The initial humor and support fades and we’re left with a story full of sadness. Overall, I found this book interesting. There’s a lot to talk about regarding mental health, support systems, sexuality, families, and falling through the cracks. In the interest in not writing an excessively long review (possibly too late for that), I’ll just say that if you’ve read it I’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s going on with the depictions of sexuality here. Sebby hooks with up Mira; Sebby hooks up with Jeremy; Jeremy hooks up with Mira; they all three end up in bed together at one point. There’s a lot going on.
Like I said, the comparison to Perks is an apt one–this will be an easy recommendation for fans of that book. Some readers may abandon it because the shifting points of view (in first, second, and third person) don’t make for a smooth read. This was another one of those books that made me wish I were still in grad school and could write a nice long paper unpacking some of the issues dealt with (and not dealt with).
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network