Genre: YA Contemporary | Diversity: Generalized Anxiety | My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️| Release Date: August 1, 2017
Jessa has always felt broken inside, but she’s gotten very good at hiding it. No one at school knows about the panic attacks, the therapy that didn’t help, the meds that haven’t worked. But when a severe accident leaves her with a brain injury and visible scars, Jessa’s efforts to convince the world that she’s okay finally crumble—now she looks as shattered as she feels.
Fleeing from her old life in Los Angeles, Jessa moves to Colorado to live with her dad, where she meets Marshall, a boy whose kindness and generous heart slowly draw Jessa out of her walled-off shell and into the broken, beautiful, real world—a place where souls get hurt just as badly as bodies, and we all need each other to heal.
Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own.
I was intrigued by this book for two reasons: the gorgeous cover and the on-the-page anxiety rep.
From the very beginning of the story, Jessa openly struggles with nearly debilitating anxiety. Since her dad moved away in seventh grade, Jessa’s been having panic attacks, resulting in the loss of nearly all her friends. She has learned to manage her anxiety through methods of avoidance, but when she’s involved in a life-threatening car accident, her coping skills stop working. The accident leaves Jessa with facial scarring, and she begins hallucinating scars, bruises, and burns on random people’s faces.
From what I understand of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the anxiety rep is completely on point. One thing I loved about this was the way Jessa’s anxiety expresses itself in the writing. Her thoughts are constantly interrupting the narration without punctuation or capitalization, which reminds me of how I feel at points when I have intrusive thoughts. Jessa’s feelings and surroundings are described with intense imagery that reflects the chaos she goes through during and after the accident, and the language is absolutely beautiful.
This book intrigued me with the concept: invisible illness (anxiety) and emotional pain translate into the physical scars, burns, cuts, etc. that Jessa sees on people’s faces. I don’t know a whole lot about aphantasia (mind’s eye blindness) or hallucinations, but this seemed pretty realistic to me: Jessa’s spent years avoiding her anxiety, claiming that therapy and meds made it worse, and now she’s forced to face her fears. I appreciated the development of her friendship with Hannah and her romance with Marshall, which I felt went at a realistic pace (a rarity in YA romance).
When Jessa starts at Crossroads, an alternative school for artistic kids or those who’ve gotten kicked out of prior schools, she at first resists seeking help for her anxiety. Eventually, she begins speaking with Dr. I, the school’s psychiatrist. I had high hopes for this relationship, as he seemed like a good guy and encouraged her to attend a support group. However, I was disappointed in the way psychiatric medication got thrown around in this book. It strikes me as highly unlikely that a school would have a psychiatrist (medical doctor specializing in psychological disorders) vs. a psychologist (counselor or therapist who specializes in mental health issues). I was also disturbed that Dr. I could prescribe kids medications like Aderall without parental consent; this strikes me as unlikely and problematic, although it made for an interesting plot point in Hannah’s character.
While I was intrigued by Jessa’s hallucinations, believing them to have a unique psychological explanation, I was disappointed in where this book went at the end of the story, which is the main reason I’m giving this 3 stars.
SPOILERS AHEAD but I feel like they’re necessary to explain my issues with the book.
Near the end of the novel, Jessa discovers that the man she thought was Dr. I, the school counselor, turns out to be not real. She hallucinated the man in the white coat at the scene of her accident and then later when she encountered him in school. Rather than taking the word of the actual Dr. I, that Jessa is hallucinating, she decides that the man in the white coat is actually her guardian angel.
This is hard for me. I grew up Protestant, so I understand the idea behind angels who look out for us when we’re in trouble. In fact, in high school, my belief in God was one of the things that got me through my depression. I understand the desire to believe in a Higher Power, I really do. But to use this as a plot device strikes me as problematic. For one thing, hallucinating angels is pretty common for folks dealing with mental illnesses like schizophrenia, yet Jessa just gets to believe that she’s right because God.
On top of that, rather than following Jessa through her recovery process, her issues seemingly disappear once she realizes that it was God all along. She stops hallucinating bruises on other people when she recognizes that it was God showing her how other people were emotionally hurting. Which is cute, I guess, except it greatly misrepresents what it’s actually like to recover and forever deal with a real anxiety disorder. Mental illness doesn’t just disappear. I don’t care what God you believe in, but it just doesn’t go away if you pray hard enough. A book that ends like this one might give kids the idea that they just need to pray harder, that they will stop feeling depressed or anxious if they just want it bad enough. This is harmful—believe me, I was there at seventeen, trying to pray away my depression. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.
No amount of beautiful language and accurate anxiety rep in the beginning can make up for ‘praying it away’ as an ending. But that’s my opinion, I suppose.
Overall: Not Really Recommended.
I wanted to give this book at least 4 stars throughout the first 75%. The representation of what it’s like to be inside a severely anxious mind, combined with the interesting psychological result of Jessa’s avoidance, kept me intrigued, and the cute romance felt extremely realistic. In the end, the author’s blatant religious tie-in ruined this book for me. So while it’s an interesting read, it should be noted that the idea of God curing mental illness appears at the tail end of this book. With that being said, I can’t really recommend this one.
Find All Things New on:
Have you read All Things New? What’s your favorite book with great anxiety rep? How do you feel about tying in religion with mental health? Let’s talk in the comments!