Wednesday 11 July 2018

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Mental Illness in YA Month Review: The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

The Beauty that Remains by Ashley WoodfolkThe Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk (Bought) - Music brought Autumn, Shay, and Logan together. Death wants to tear them apart.

Autumn always knew exactly who she was—a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect.

But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.

Despite the odds, one band's music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.
From Goodreads.

Trigger warning: This book features discussion of suicide, and panic attacks.

When I first heard of The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk, I thought I was in for a sad read. What I wasn't expecting was a story that spoke so beautifully on the depth of love.

The book follows Autumn, Shay and Logan, as each deal with the grief in the days, weeks, months after the passing of people they loved, and how it affects them all differently. They all know each other, but it's not about them as a group, it's about their individual stories, their individual experiences of grief. Nor are they grieving over the same person. When the book starts, Autumn's best friend, Tavia, died a couple of days before in a car accident, and is blaming herself because she wasn't with her - but with her brother, Dante instead, who she has feelings for. Shay's twin sister, Sasha, died three months ago from Leukaemia, and is struggling with losing someone she had such a special and close bond with. And Logan's ex-boyfriend, Bram, died by suicide just over three weeks ago, and despite the fact that they spilt up six months ago, he's taken his death really hard - the last words he said to Bram haunting him.

They're all really struggling to get past their grief and move on, but each in different ways, to the point where it's affecting their mental health. Autumn has depression - though it's not actually mentioned on page in the book, it's clear that she does from the story, but, also, Woodfolk puts she has depression on Twitter. She's not yet cried over Tavia's death, because she just feels so numb, and she's spending pretty much all her time at Tavia's house. She still sends Tavia messages and emails, and her whole narration, all her thoughts, are directed to Tavia, she's constantly talking to her in her mind:
"When you went to Alexia's party without me, I was upset that you didn't beg me to come with you; that you went even though I didn't want to go. It's stupid, but it hurt, and Margo and Faye were there too, so there wasn't even anyone for me to text and complain. I was just going to eat ice cream, read a book, and go to bed early.
Then Dante called.
I went to your house to hang out with him--to have some fun without you because you were doing things without me.
And now I have to live with this: I was
flirting with him when I could have been stopping you." (p5-6)
Since the death of Sasha, Shay has been experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. Unless there's music playing, she can't be around crowds. Any mention of her sister, and she starts struggling to breath. When Rohan - one of Shay's closest friends, and Sasha's boyfriend - sings a song at his band's gig that she and him used to sing to Sasha in the days leading up to her death, she has to leave. I could really relate to Shay's anxiety, and Woodfolk did such a fantastic job of not only describing them, but the fear and the emotions you experience when a panic attack hits. Reading Shay's experiences triggered my own anxiety, and although uncomfortable, to me, that's just proof that Woodfolk got them spot on. Shay's anxiety and her panic attacks constantly keep her running away, literally, and it's only music in her ears and the running that seem to calm her down. It's like when she lost her twin sister, Shay lost a part of herself, too, and she feels lost, with nothing to hold on to. On top of all this, her mother, in her own grief, isn't around much any more, and when she is, she can feel her seeing Sasha when she looks at her. Their relationship is breaking down as they both struggle with their grief. And because of all she's dealing with, she's having problems in the relationships with her friends; together they run a a successful music blog, which Sasha was a big part of, but Shay can't face making decisions on how to move forward with the blog, and it's causing friction.

Logan is drinking heavily to deal with his grief. Despite the amount of time that has passed since he and Bram split up, he's yet to get over the end of their relationship, so his death on top of that, and then finding out that he died by suicide, he is having a lot of trouble coming to terms with Bram's death. Their relationship ended badly, and Logan said some things he now regrets, that he never apologised for, that he can now never apologise for, and he can barely make it through the day. He's also struggling to understand why Bram would end his life. He spends his time watching the videos on Bram's YouTube channel over and over. Alcohol is the only thing that seems to help.

Logan is the only person who seeks help and has therapy - or, rather, is made to by his parents when they discover his drinking - no-one else sees a doctor about how they're feeling, or is treated. I loved Logan's sessions with his therapist, the moments when he would allow himself to express how he's feeling, even if he wasn't really doing the work his therapist wanted him to. Sasha finds a support group for those who have lost twins, and Autumn finds some help in confiding in her older sister, Willow, and being honest and truthful with Dante with all she's feeling, maybe the one other person who really gets how she's feeling.

It's also worth pointing out how diverse The Beauty That Remains is, with characters who have a lot of intersecting identities. As well as having depression, Autumn is Korean-American, and was adopted by her white parents; as well as having anxiety and panic attacks, Shay is Black (making this novel #OwnVoices for both race and anxiety) Logan is gay, as well as self-medicating with alcohol, and Tavia and Dante are Latinx. Yet this novel isn't about mental illness, or race, or sexuality. It's a story about people, grief, and love.

While The Beauty That Remains is a beautiful and tender story about three teens who get lost in their grief, through their grief we get such a clear picture of just who Tavia, Sasha and Bram were, and how much they meant to each of the characters. In such heartache, we get to see the very depth of the love that these characters had for the people who died. It's absolutely heartbreaking, but in the best way, because the grief comes from love, and the love Autumn, Shay and Logan felt for Tavia, Sasha and Bram just poured off of the page. With my own grief over losing my Grandma four months ago, and losing my Nan three years ago, I felt so understood.

I love how music is a big part of this story, and how, in the end, it brings the three together. Logan, Dante and Rohan used to be in a band, Unravelling Lovely, and although the band is no longer together, the band had an impact, in some way, on each narrator, and the band is mentioned time and again. Music threads the three narrators together, and in the end, it's through music - through friendship and forgiveness - that the three begin to start healing. Their grief will never leave them, and they will always miss the ones they lost, but they can begin to move forward. God, it was just gorgeous!

The Beauty That Remains simply took my breath away. It's an incredibly beautiful and moving story, and one I won't forget for a very long time. With The Beauty That Remains, Woodfolk has made her way on to my auto-buy list.

Mental Illness in YA Month

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Published: 6th March 2018
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Ashley Woodfolk's Website

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