Tuesday, 29 May 2018
A Review of You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone
I loved it. While Holocaust narratives are important, I think it's also necessary to have books about how Jewish characters in the modern world. And it was interesting to see twins who weren't automatic best friends! And there were flawed female protagonists, something else I feel we don't see often enough.
Trigger warning for self harm and suicidal ideation. This is also most certainly in the upper end of YA - it features sex (described) and discussions of masturbation, drinking and swearing. Many of these are taboo topics in YA, but they are things teenagers experience and I believe should be covered in YA books. I didn't even know masturbation was something women could do until I was in my 20's, so this would have been a revelation. With the style of writing and the subjects covered, I could easily see it as a book aimed at adults, which just happens to be about teenagers. While I don't think books should have age limits - some of the things I read at twelve have really shaped me as a person and helped me understand the world - I'd say just make sure someone can handle heavy topics.
Under a cut, because I want to talk about this book in regard to which twin gets the Huntington's diagnosis.
Adina is the twin who has the gene, and while it makes her actions understandable, it does not make them acceptable.
We have beautifully flawed, complex, female protagonists, who make mistakes and screw up on purpose. I'll get to Adina in a minute, but I'm not excusing Tovah for forcing Adina to take the test before she was ready. However, Tovah definitely comes off better. Many times, I found myself supporting Tovah over Adina and wanting to protect Tovah. Adina dismisses many of Tovah's problems as not as bad compared to hers, such as her rejection from Johns Hopkins. However, people are allowed to be upset about personal issues. It's the same logic used to tell people not to complain while people in other countries have it worse. Tovah is also the more religious of the twins, keeping their families orthodox traditions. Interestingly, it's not outright stated is Adina is becoming atheist/agnostic, or just angry at religion in general. Neither approach is presented as being better, just what works best for them personally.
During the last third or so of the book, my most common statement was "for goodness's sake, Adina." Choosing a school in Baltimore was one thing, but ripping up Tovah's Nirvana ticket that she got from her father? Stalking her viola teacher? Just generally being not very nice to everyone around her? It isn't even something that just begins when she got the diagnosis - deleting her sister's applications took place long before the beginning of the story. I'm still not convinced why she did that. Did she not want to deal with Ima on her own, as she claims, or was it that she didn't want Tovah to have something she didn't? Maybe a little of both. However, Towards the end, when she realises how her behaviour effects not just her but everyone else around her, she starts to get help, and I was blinking back tears. I didn't realise how much I was getting attached to both twins.
I did love that both the twins were ambitious! They're also not so different. Even if Adina became more comfortable with attention, both were shy when they were younger. Both work hard. Both have a manipulative streak. Both would be in Slytherin, for sure.
While I agree with the message that teenagers need to know that you don't have to have your life perfectly planned out at the age of 18, I also think there aren't enough YA books focusing on STEM fields. I kind-of wish Tovah had gone pre-med at another school and would reapply to Johns Hopkins for her later studies. I can still see her going into medicine, but perhaps as a researcher! Also, it's so odd to me that people in the US can still pick-and-choose courses into college. I had to start narrowing down my choices at age 14. If you want to be a doctor in the UK, you absolutely have to choose the right subjects at 16, and everyone picks what they want to study at uni when they apply.
One thing I know that may put people off is the student/teacher relationship. While it is presented as unhealthy, it is unhealthy both ways. Possibly because Adina is an adult and it is used to show how her behaviour is effecting herself and others, I thought it worked. It wasn't a good relationship, and 18 and 25 is still a huge gap in experience. I believe this is really up to the individual reader about how well they thought this was handled. It's not the first time for something like this for Adina, either - she lost her virginity at 14 to an 18 year old. Not that this makes it okay! It's just something that has been part of her character for a long time.
Often, the narrative stops to explain a Hebrew term or aspect of Judaism, and it works. It never interrupted the flow of the story and felt natural, and I love books where I feel like I learn something.
I would recommend this book for people who would like to read about a complex sister relationship!