Sunday, 1 July 2018

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Mental Illness in YA Month Review: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate ScelsaNetGalleyFans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa (eProof) - 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.
From Goodreads.

Trigger warning: This book features homophobia, and attempted suicide.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa is such a wonderful, beautiful novel. Three teens who each have their own problems, who find freedom and safety in each other.

This is a complicated novel, because these are complicated characters. Mira has depression and chronic fatigue syndrome; she missed a lot of her freshman year at school because she simply wasn't able to get out of bed. Her family believes she's doing better now than she was, after getting out of hospital, and so they expect her to try harder; go back to school and be like other teens. Jeremy missed the end of his freshman year at school due to a homophobic incident. He's back now, but he has withdrawn; he keeps himself to himself, he doesn't mix with the other students, and he has his lunch in one of the teacher's offices. Sebby is a charming and effervescent boy. He draws Jeremy out of his shell, he gives Mira energy, and he seems so full of life himself, like he has sunlight running through his veins. But the truth is, Sebby is so unbelievably unhappy, an unhappiness he manages to keep at bay when he's with Mira and Jeremy, but an unhappiness he's starting to lose his grip on. He doesn't go to school, he spends him time shoplifting, or having sex with the lonely older guy who spends all his time at a record store. He's in foster care, but his religious carer, Tilly, has shown a distinct lack of care ever since finding out he's gay, after a homophobic attack landed him in hospital. His home doesn't feel like home, he has no family, all he has are Mira and Jeremy - but there comes a point when they just aren't enough to hold back his sadness.

The book is told from each of their perspectives, and each perspective uses a different narrative; Jeremy's chapters are in first person, Mira's are in third, and the few we get from Sebby are in second. The switch in narrations was strange at first, but I quickly got used to it, and found second person to be really effective for Sebby, as we, as readers, can almost put ourselves in their shoes, as it's you.

Mira is wonderful. She is a whizz with a sewing machine, and creates wonderful, eye-catching, outfits from clothes she buys at charity shops. She very much uses clothing as self-expression, and she's bold and out there and just pretty much magnificent. However, she's not well. Mira's depression has weighed her down for so long, and though she's doing better than she was, she's not fully out of this period of depression yet. However, her parents think she is ok, and so she should now try harder. Not only that, her dad doesn't seem to get depression at all. He doesn't seem to understand that depression is a mental illness you have no control over, he feels Mira can control it, because she's better now, right? Because she's making herself go to school, right? A conversation comes up about her going to Summer school for the next two years, to catch up on the work she missed when she was off for six months, and this is when we fully see how much her dad doesn't get it. Mira feels like she's being punished for something she absolutely has no control over, and her dad is of the opinion that, well, tough, you can't just stop living life whenever you feel like it, and if you want to get into a good college, you need to work hard and catch up. Her sister, who is away at college, is no help either, thinking she overreacts, and is being a baby. They just do not get it. And as upsetting as it is read these people who love Mira and should be supporting her being the complete opposite of supportive, it's great to see these characters and the effect they have, because there are so many people who just dismiss depression like it's nothing, it doesn't exist. It's hard to see Mira struggle each day, and not get the support she needs. Sebby is the only person who truly supports her, the only person who really understands. Their friendship isn't like those of other characters you see in YA. Mira needs Sebby like she needs air to breath. Sebby is the only thing that's keeping her afloat.

Jeremy is quiet and shy, and just adorable, though he is struggling. Jeremy is gay, but it's not something anyone knew about. But because he made a case for two characters being gay in a book they were studying in English, he comes under fire from his class mates, who, as they know his dad married a man only a few weeks before, decide to hurl homophobic slurs his way, and deface his locker. Jeremy ends up not being able to cope, and so stops going to school. But that was last year, and now he's back. He's still not recovered though, and for his sense of safety, he keeps his distance from everyone and hides himself away. But when he meets Mira, and later, Sebby, he is drawn to them. They are magic and fire; charming, flirtatious Jeremy and bold Mira who doesn't seem to care what anyone else thinks. Jeremy can't help wanting to be friends with them, and can't believe his luck when they're happy to bring him into the fold. But it's not just friendship, as Jeremy finds himself falling for Sebby, a shining drawing Jeremy into his orbit. Being with Sebby and Mira, Jeremy starts to believe that maybe there is more for him, for his life, than being alone and being scared.

There aren't as many chapters from Sebby's point of view as there are from Mira's and Jeremy's, but I think that's probably good, because his chapters were so upsetting. Sebby is the life and soul of the party, whether it's an actual party, or just the three of them. He brings light and laughter, and is really just such a joy. I absolutely loved him. And although that's who he is, it's not an act, he has a secret: he is unbearably unhappy. The depth of his unhappiness is unreal. We're not told if he has a diagnosis, but considering he ended up in the psych ward where he met Mira - and why he ended up there, but no spoilers - and with how he feels in each of his chapters, I think it's fair to say he has depression, too. What's so upsetting is that Mira and Jeremy don't realise just what's going on with Sebby, and because of what they're going through - Mira's struggle every day to make it through each day, and Jeremy desperately wanting to keep these real friends he finally has, who make him feel valued, but is certain they will change their mind one day - they need him, they rely on him. Being with them is what keeps Sebby going - being with each other keeps all of them going - but Sebby is the guy the other two lean on, and as they don't realise the depth of his unhappiness, Sebby is almost alone. He is there for his friends, but they don't realise they need to be there for him, they don't know he needs them. Sebby is a bright, bright flame, but his flame is flickering in the wind only he can feel, that threatens to blow him out. When it becomes too much, and Mira and Jeremy aren't quite enough any more, he resorts to other things to keep the sadness at bay, and, god, it's so, so upsetting.

There's a lot of diversity in this book, too. Both Sebby and Jeremy are gay, and so are Jeremy's dads, and Rose, a friend made at school. Mira is biracial, half black, half white, Rose's ex, Ali, is Korean-American, and Mira's mum is from a Jewish family, though isn't particularly religious herself. Everywhere you looked, there is just a whole wealth of diversity, and it really felt like the real world was represented in these pages.

Mira, Sebby and Jeremy's friendship is complicated, but it's also beautiful. Fans of the Impossible Life is an incredible, emotional, heartbreaking story that touched me deeply. It's one I won't forget for a really long time.

Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

Mental Illness in YA Month

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Published: 10th September 2015
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Kate Scelsa's Website

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