By Kaitlan Tatro
“…we are seventeen and shattered and still dancing. We have messy, throbbing hearts, and we are stronger than anyone could ever know.”
When We Collided by Emery Lord is not your average young adult romance novel. Instead of following the typical boy meets girl and they fall in love storyline, Lord provides readers with a beautiful read that is complicated, funny, and most of all, real. The two main characters, although young, both face obstacles in their lives that affect their everyday.
The beautiful and vivacious Vivi Alexander seems to have it together in appearance, but struggles with bipolar disorder and the stressors that entails, while trying to live a “normal”, teenage carefree life. The good-hearted and sweet Jonah Daniels has to put his teenage life on hold as he lives every day trying to overcome the grief of his recently deceased father. Jonah works with his two older siblings to help run their household, pay bills, and take care of their three youngest siblings, all while living out his teenage years. Both Vivi and Jonah were lost when they collided.
Upon meeting him, Vivi knows it’s her destiny to love Jonah. She senses a sadness in him and feels drawn to the shy, cute boy she meets. Once she realizes the origin of the sadness, Vivi wants to relieve some of the pain he is feeling about his father and does so by sharing her joy and fun with him. Jonah, entranced with the vivacious Vivi, begins to fall for her and her charms. It’s not until later in the book that he begins to see that she needs him to. Jonah and Vivi compliment each other in times of need. Their love is what bounds them and they are there for each other every time a high or low hits.
Their love story is an exciting and fun read because Lord makes both characters likeable and we want them to be so happy as they’re supporting each other through such difficult times in their lives. But I think what makes this book a must read for all Young Adult lovers, is that their love story touches on serious issues that many face, such as mental illness, depression, and grief.
Emery Lord writes in her author’s note at the end of the book that, “I wasn’t sure if I should write this author’s note because [the story] is just a love story in a world that looks a lot like mine. Some of us go to therapy, some take medication, some have to carefully balance exercise and sleep. There are bad days… There are also best days… They do coexist. This is my normal.”
But Lord is worried that this, a life full of highs and lows, is not seen as normal, that having a mental illness already makes you abnormal, because mental health is not talked about enough. Sculpt tries to bring pieces of young adult fiction like this to light, because we believe and agree with Lord. Mental illness among other disorders, especially among young adults, is important to talk about. Mental illness is common, but every situation is unique, and not every story is tragic or ends poorly.
Vivi and Jonah’s story help readers see that. Vivi expresses this in the novel by saying, “I resent people who believe that depression is the same as weakness, that ‘sad’ people must be coddled like helpless toddlers.” Vivi understands her situation is unique, and even at a young age has learned from her disorder that depression is part of her normal life, that it is the only normal she will know.
As a reader, I was engrossed in the lovers’ lives because Lord portrayed honest, funny, charismatic characters, and hey, I’m a sucker for love. But I enjoyed the book, and recommend it, because of its depth and layers. The characters became more real and the story became that much more important. If you are looking for a love story that is not conventional, but will make you feel all the emotions of watching young love unfold, or just interested in the way mental illness plays a role in a young person’s life, please read this book.
Here are some resources that you can use or to help someone you know going through Vivi and/or Jonah’s experience:
National Alliance on Mental Illness- NAMI.org 1-800-950-6264
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry- AACAP.org
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance- DBSAlliance.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention- AFSP.org 1-800-273-8255