If you’re looking for an author who’ll rip your heart out from your chest and make you cry, then Adam Silvera is your man. I knew going in that History Is All You Left Me would be a heartbreaker but I was amazed at the intensity and range of emotions I experienced while reading this exceptional and at times emotionally draining story of love, loss, friendship, grief. . . and hope. Now I don’t want you to think that this book is one huge downer because it’s really not…there’s so much more to it.
The Blurb is as follows:
When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.
To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.
If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.
The story opens at the scene of a funeral. Told from the first-person point of view of 17-year old Griffen, we learn that the funeral we are seeing is that of his ex-boyfriend and first love Theo. Griffen is devastated by this grief and through the narration, Griffen continuously “talks” to Theo in his thoughts as though they were both in the same room together. At first, I thought this was kind of morbid but then, how many of us think of our loved ones who’ve passed and talk to them in our thoughts, thinking perhaps of what we’d say to them were they still here?
Griffen’s heart is ripped open even further the day of the funeral when Theo’s current boyfriend Jackson shows up and shares his memories of Theo during the service.
What’s interesting about this book, is that the chapters alternate between present day (the funeral day and the following days afterward) and the story of Theo and Griffen’s history together. Via the “history” chapters, we learn how they became friends and fell and love, how they both came out to their parents together, the first time they have sex together and the reasons behind their breakup, all leading us to Theo’s passing.
A big part of the story – both past and present – is Griffen’s attempt at dealing with his OCD. We see him trying to deal with Theo’s death while trying to keep what he refers to as his “compulsions” in check: obsessively counting (no odd numbers allowed), ensure that nobody is ever situation on his left side at any time, etc.
Alternating the chapters between past and present provided a nice balance in the story. In one chapter, we read through grief and pain while in the next, we experience the exhilaration of an exciting first love. The author did an excellent job with this, and the past and present method of storytelling really worked well for me.
Jackson, who is staying with Theo’s parents, surprisingly reaches out to Griffen and an unlikely friendship develops between the two of them, as they share their memories of Theo and end up supporting each other through the grieving process.
Though Griffen feels as though he should hate Jackson given that Theo replaced Griffen with Jackson, Griffen discovers instead that Jackson is the only person he can talk to — the only person who truly understands what he himself is going through.
I applaud the author for not making Jackson into some kind of villain, given that he was the one who stole away our protagonist’s first love. Jackson ending up being not only an interesting character but also a rather likable character and someone with whom we empathized.
The Themes (as I saw them)
As Theo and Jackson shared their memories, I was struck by the repeated message of how important it is for us to appreciate the people in our lives while they’re here.
Another one of the themes that seemed to run throughout the novel was that though we may have grandiose plans for our future, there’s no guarantee that we or our loved ones will be around to carry them out. So in this way, it’s essential that we “live in the moment”, and not postpone living for some later future date which may never come.
Life isn’t always going to turn out the way we intend and we don’t always get to choose our future. And when life does throw us for a loop, we have to realize that it’s okay to experience all the emotions that come with it because that’s what living is all about. Sometimes messy, sometimes scary but there are always more surprises for us around the next corner.
By seeing the past and the present firsthand, we accompany Griffen on a journey of the excitement of first love, his challenges with OCD, the emptiness he feels when Theo moves on, the jealousy that Jackson’s presence instills in him, the terrible grief and gut-wrenching heartache he goes through when Theo dies and finally, moving on.
Now it’s worth mentioning that Griffen doesn’t necessarily handle each situation in the best way — but do any of us? Especially when faced with such extreme situations? His failures and foibles just made him even more human and someone I think most of us can relate to.
But There Are Surprises
As we experience Griffen and Theo’s past, we expect a simple and tender story of two boys falling in love, resulting in tragedy. But there’s much more to it than that. There was one surprise twist that I did not see coming. Additionally, the mystery surrounding Theo’s death finally comes out into the open at the end of the book.
Loved it, loved it, loved it! I was hesitant going in — I mean who can approach a novel about death, grief, and pain without more than a bit of hesitation? But what I found instead was an incredible emotional and gripping character-driven story that was tender and raw at the same time.
I don’t want to give you the impression that it was a depressing downer of a book. It wasn’t. Now I’m not saying that it’s an easy story to read because it’s not. But what it is (in my humble opinion), is a beautiful, well-written emotional story with deep (though flawed) characters that is well worth reading.
It’s not only a book about love and loss, but also about forgiveness and hope. History Is All You Left Me is definitely a 5-star book for me. Recommended!
You can check out History Is All You Left Me HERE