Beat the Backlist Book Review: When We Collided by Emery Lord
Also by this author: The Names They Gave Us, The Map from Here to There
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on April 5th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Goodreads Synopsis: Seventeen year-old Jonah Daniels has lived in Verona Cove, California, his whole life, and only one thing has ever changed: his father used to be alive, and now he is not. With a mother lost in a deep bout of depression, Jonah and his five siblings struggle to keep up their home and the restaurant their dad left behind. But at the start of summer, a second change rolls in: Vivi Alexander, the new girl in town.
Vivi is in love with life. Charming and unfiltered, she refuses to be held down by the medicine she’s told should make her feel better. After meeting Jonah, she slides into the Daniels’ household seamlessly, winning over each sibling with her imagination and gameness. But it’s not long before Vivi’s zest for life begins to falter. Soon her adventurousness becomes all-out danger-seeking.
Through each high and low, Vivi and Jonah’s love is put to the test . . . but what happens when love simply isn’t enough?
Emery Lord’s When We Collided is a beautiful and moving story that follows teenagers Jonah Daniels and Vivi Alexander as they meet and fall in love in Verona Beach while on summer vacation. What makes When We Collided such a standout novel for me, however, is that it’s so much more than just a contemporary romance. It also offers up fully fleshed out, flawed and therefore realistic characters that I immediately connected with and wanted to know more about, has a strong focus on family, and most importantly, it gives the readers an honest and poignant look at what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder and depression.
Emery Lord does an incredible job of crafting a dual point-of-view story where each point of view is distinct and equally compelling. From the moment we meet them, we learn that each character has a secret they’re trying to hide – Vivi is trying to hide the fact that she has a mental illness while Jonah and his siblings are hiding the fact that their mother has been practically catatonic since their dad passed away seven months ago. It’s easy to see that Vivi and Jonah’s decision to keep these facts hidden probably isn’t the best course of action in the long run, but at the same time, I can see where they’re coming from and why they’re not ready to let anyone know what they’re going through.
Jonah Daniels – I fell in love with his character from the first moment we encounter him as he’s walking his little sister down to the pottery shop so that she can paint a mug. He’s such a sweet and devoted brother and son and he’s incredibly mature and responsible for his age, almost too responsible honestly. His father’s death and his mother’s subsequent depression has forced Jonah to become an adult and the head of their household even though he’s only 17 and the third of six children. It should be his summer vacation, but instead of enjoying his summer like his classmates are doing, Jonah spends every waking moment juggling work and taking care of his three younger siblings.
Vivi Alexander – Vivi has this vibrant, larger than life personality and so she blows into Verona Beach like a whirlwind and makes it her mission to spread her love of life all over the town. She is a free spirit who wants to see and experience everything that life has to offer. As light and buoyant as Vivi seems, we do learn early on that there was some drama back at home and she and her mom are spending their summer at Verona Beach as a way to basically give Vivi a fresh start. We also learn, when we witness Vivi make a production about tossing a pill out into the ocean, that she is supposed to be taking medication for something and has clearly chosen not to do so. Seeing her do this so early on let me know right away that there’s way more to Vivi than meets the eye and I felt that things would not be all sunshine and rainbows for her during the course of the story.
Exploration of Mental Health – One of the things I really liked about When We Collided was that even though on the surface it looked like it was going to be summer romance story, it’s really so much more than that. Emery Lord explores many aspects of mental health, including bipolar disorder, grief, and depression. Her exploration is thorough in that it not only allows us to see what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder and/or depression, but it also shows us what it’s like to live with and/or love someone who has either bipolar or depression.
In my mind, Vivi and Jonah aren’t so much in love with each other in this story as they “collided” at a time when each had a void in their lives that they needed filled. For Jonah who has barely been living his own life since his dad died and his mom got too depressed to really function, Vivi arrives and brings much needed excitement, fun, spontaneity, and romance, giving Jonah somewhat of an escape from his all too serious life. For Vivi, Jonah is someone she can focus her attention on this summer – she can have a fun summer fling with someone who isn’t watching her like a hawk for signs of mental illness and who knows nothing of the drama that her illness apparently created back home for her. Since no one in Verona Beach knows of her history, everyone just assumes that her over-the-top enthusiastic personality is just that – her personality. They don’t see it as a sign of untreated mental illness and so Vivi can live her life with a clean slate… well, as long as she can keep her disorder in check anyway.
Focus on Family – I loved Jonah’s whole family just as much as I loved Jonah. Each sibling is well drawn and even though the story is mostly about Jonah and Vivi, Jonah’s family members don’t just function as a backdrop. Lord really does a wonderful job of fleshing out the complexities of the Daniels family dynamic and I especially loved seeing Jonah’s relationship with each of his siblings. He really does have a special bond with each of them, especially the older siblings that share the burden of trying to keep their family together. While it was a little frustrating that they didn’t just go to someone to get help for their mom, I did admire how they all banded together to take care of each other.
The Setting: Verona Beach is this charming small town on the California coast. I fell in love with the town because it reminded me so much of my own hometown. It’s one of those places where everyone knows everyone else and there’s just a real sense of community. There are also lots of quaint little shops all over town, like the pottery studio where main character Vivi ends up working and the diner where the waitress calls everyone nicknames like sugar and honeybun. Everything about Verona Beach is just picture perfect.
Because I saw this novel as more of an exploration of mental illness, I kind of wish it didn’t have a romance in it. What Jonah and Vivi each really needed was a good friend to confide in more so than they needed someone to flirt with and date. Their relationship was still cute at times, but I think the story could have been even more powerful and memorable than it already is if it had been more about friendship. Just a personal preference though and the romance didn’t diminish my love of the story.
If you’re looking for a fun summer read, I’d honestly say that this probably isn’t the best choice. Even though that romance is there, it’s definitely not the focus of When We Collided. If you’re looking for a thoughtful read that gives an honest look into what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder and/or depression, then When We Collided would be a great choice.
I fell in love with this book earlier this year. I agree with all your likes – especially Jonah. I just adored him. The setting was amazing too and I appreciated how mental health was handled. Great review!
Thanks! It was so amazing. I really loved Lord’s writing style too so I’m looking forward to reading The Names They Gave Us soon too.
Thanks for sharing. I do like books that focus on mental health. I do get what you mean about wishing there wasn’t a romance. I tend to agree!
Thanks! Yeah, sometimes for me, it feels like the romance takes some of the focus off the illness. It’s more of a distraction than anything else.
I think this sounds wonderful as it is, especially the inclusion of fully developed family characters, but also I can see your point — it’s a more powerful and better narraitv eif it’d just been the mental illnes.s.
Exactly. It was definitely beautifully written as is, but I just didn’t really see the need for the romance. The mental illness impacting a friendship would have been poignant enough.
Great review. The book does sound heavy due to the themes. I haven’t read it yet but I do agree about the romance bit. Sometimes, romance is just thrown into stories and it doesn’t always workout well. It seems that may have happened with this one. Defeinitely adding the book to my TBR.
Thanks, I hope you enjoy it!
I’ve been wanting to read a book by Emery Lord for such a long time now. I am absolutely adding this book to my TBR! I’m glad this book is so fleshed out, although the romance mixed in with mental illness does sound complicated, but it seems like it worked well in this story as you described it. I’m glad you enjoyed this read! Lovely review! 🙂
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 🙂