Rating: 5 stars
Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullamn is a moving novel about self discovery, mental illness, and grief. I went into this book with zero expectations; I wasn’t familiar with the author, the synopsis was only so helpful, and any time a book mentions mental illness I try to keep an open mind.
The book is told in alternating timelines, switching between the main character, Ingrid’s, present and her childhood. Ingrid grew up with a mother who was an opera star until she lost her voice and was forced to retire. Ingrid, now seventeen, wants to attend a prestigious music school in London but her Mother won’t allow it until she has spent three weeks in the Peak Wilderness summer program.
The characters in this book are diverse and multi-layered and even if we don’t get and intimate look at many of them, the glimpses we get of all of them are quite meaningful. The participants of Peak Wilderness include: an ex-con, a young girl hoping to win back custody of her daughter, a gay boy trying to fix himself for his parents and God, two twins with destructive tendencies, an addict who took a short foray into prostitution, and our main character who took an ax to her shin before we ever met her at the beginning of the book. I hope that little glimpse into this book sets off alarm bells in your head.
This book is not comfortable!
It really isn’t. This book gives us glimpses into the lives of so many people with so many different problems that I don’t see how anyone can walk away after reading it and not feel compelled to examine themselves and their own lives. None of the characters in this book are exactly who they appear to be. The mean girl isn’t all that mean and the barbie doll isn’t all that perfect if you know what I mean. If you expect this book to check a list of boxes and tropes for you than I would suggest you choose another book.
One thing this book did really well is to stress its points without being preachy. Our main character is pretty self absorbed but if she wasn’t a bit self absorbed then I would actually have been more worried about her. She has a lot of lessons to learn along the way, both about herself and about others, and she just couldn’t do that if she was anything less that a bit self centered. The important thing is that by the end of the book she isn’t perfect, she isn’t okay, but she’s working on herself.
This book is loaded down with metaphor and hidden messages which I enjoyed but not everyone does. One idea expressed in this book it that some people are meant to be in our lives forever and others are just meant to stay for a season. Too often Young Adult books try to convince us that all people are meant to be in our lives forever. High school loves all last and childhood best friends never drift away and families never fall apart but if they do they magically come back together by the last chapter. In this book some relationships show you they will be forever, others tell you up front they’re only going to last a season, and other’s yet are still to be determined. And that’s okay.
I’m skeptical of any book I think might glorify mental illness or suicide or any other terrible thing that causes people to suffer. This book takes a hard look at a lot of things but most of all depression is a focal point of this novel. Depression and trauma and their long term effects on not only the people who suffer from them but the ways the people around them can be caused to suffer as well are both looked at intimately here. And I feel they were both handled delicately as well as realistically. We’re given a glimpse of people’s demons and the various forms they come in. There is no easy way to talk about things like that but this book tries to portray things straight forward and with heart.
I could list a million other things about this book that I loved. I could talk individually about each character, the path they walk, and the way their path intersects with others but then this wouldn’t be a book review it would be an essay. Seeing as that isn’t an option I implore anyone who wants to connect with a diverse, broken, beautiful cast of characters to pick up this book. Open your mind, open your heart, and keep a box of tissues close at hand because this book is a rollercoaster.
Until next time, stay passionate and excelsior!