Review Blog

Oct 11 2017

A semi-definitive list of worst nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

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Penguin, 2017. ISBN 9780143573913
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Themes: Fear and Anxiety; Resilience; Cowardice and Bravery; Mental Illness: Suicide; Teen Romance; Family Struggles. This is a book filled with gut-wrenching fear - for the characters, not the reader. It is a book filled with oxymorons - tragedy and comedy; cowardice and bravery; depression and hope; obsession and a light touch. Krystal Sutherland has also managed to braid into the harder parts of this book romance and understanding of the very complex world of those who struggle to live well with mental illness. And you won't want to put this book down because the characters will charm you!
Esther Solar is the quirky, fear-riddled central character whose family appear to be cursed with struggles that lead them down the road of mental illness in a myriad of forms. Her family life could only be described as twisted out of shape. Her twin brother is severely challenged by the dark, her mother is afraid of bad luck (which she seems to court by her gambling habit) and her father has not left the basement for years; and Esther manages to keep going, wearing bizarre outfits that are her way of disappearing (even though everyone looks at her!). Her best friend, Hephzibah, is a selective mute and together they have silently battled being the odd-bods at school by sticking together. The only person from their past who supported them, Jonah, dramatically reappears into the action. He then proceeds to complicate Esther's existence in ways that she could never expect, compelling her to confront the long list of fears that hangs over her like an ever present storm cloud, ready to drop an unexpected deluge of disaster. And through all of the complexities of her life walks the visitor from her Grandfather's tales - the visitor that no one ever wants: Death!
There are many laugh-out-loud moments in this book as Esther's family's frailties are 'undressed and revealed' in their raw humanity in the face of the deep darkness that accompanies them. Despite this expose of severe mental illness, the care of a friend and the expressions of love provide opportunities to see hope grow. Not with an easy-fix, but as if the clouds part and small glimpses of sunshine peek through. Jonah is an endearing and strong character, who has his own tough issues to deal with - but is absolutely a 'winner'. But don't expect everything in this book to be completely believable!
The book contains some hints about how to seek help for those facing their own battles with anxiety and mental illness.
NB: The personification of Death in this book could enable this book to be used as a paired text with Markus Zuzak's 'The Book Thief' for Senior English students.
Recommended: For mature readers aged 15+ (Readers who have enjoyed John Green books will also enjoy this book). There is some swearing included.
Carolyn Hull

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