ARC · Contemporary Literature

Everything Here is Beautiful

I generally dislike the idea of “women’s fiction” as a literary genre. I do not understand why literature written by or about “everyday men” is fiction, but anything by or about “everyday women” needs to be sub-categorized. But really, this, like any other story about men or women, is a story about life. And like any good literature, it fictionalizes many of the challenges and relationships that we all recognize and can relate to, while providing insight for those who haven’t lived these types of experiences.

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

“But it was impossible to know the truth of another’s interior life. Wasn’t it?”

Miranda and Lucia are sisters. They moved from China to the United States, with their mother, as young children (or as a fetus, in Lucia’s case). As time goes by, the sisters get married (or don’t), have children (or don’t), separate from their partners (or don’t) and move around the world. Although they have been close since their youth, very close, something happens that changes everything. Lucia suffers a (non-specific diagnosis) mental break and must be hospitalized. Throughout the years that follow, this experience colors the relationships, jobs and decisions Lucia makes and, with the changes in guilt and responsibility that Miranda feels, irreparably changes the connection between the sisters.

This story was told in alternating viewpoints and we get to see the events through the eyes of Lucia herself, Miranda, and Lucia’s two serious partners, Yonah and Manny. The voice changes slightly as the narrators change, but the one that really felt the most alive was Yonah’s. His accent and personality came through so strongly, while the others, at least stylistically, blended together for me. The writing itself was short, almost staccato. Thoughts and moments jumped quickly paragraph to paragraph, without long exposition or flowery extra language. It’s a style I don’t mind, in general, though at times I felt that perhaps it was a little too disjointed here. And as the story went, the descriptive language got a little longer and more present, so the style lost a bit of consistency there. But the overall pacing and feel of the story was nicely handled and very emotionally present.

The way mental illness was considered here, which was the main plot point that moved the story forwards and which all the characters revolved around, was skillfully handled. Lucia’s narrative sections gave some superb insight into the inner perspective of a person dealing with a mental health disorder. And Miranda, Yonah and Manny’s sections brilliantly exemplified the struggles faced by family and friends of those suffering from mental illness and the treatment of it. The general impotence felt by everyone, the strain and guilt and confusion and frustration spread all around, is heartbreaking to read. And will provide anyone who has experienced anything similar with justification and relief that they are not the only ones who feel helpless and discouraged. The exploration of the feelings of loss, loss of sense of self and self-control and decision-making, to the illness both for Lucia and her family/friends is also very important. More than once Lucia mentions a lack of awareness of what is real anymore, while Miranda/Yonah/Manny speak about how they start to forget what parts of her are Lucia and what parts are her mental illness. The pressure that puts on both the person and the ones who love them is beyond difficult. In general, I felt that this was just a really respectable chronicle of the struggles of mental illness.

As an added bonus, the story is wonderfully multi-cultural. With a very diverse cast, both regarding characters and locations, from China to Israel to the US to Ecuador to Switzerland, the way everything came together to create unique and specific cultures was fascinating. And of course, as this is the main billing for this story, the sister-sister bond between Miranda and Lucia, with both its ups and downs, will be recognizable to anyone with siblings.

Some small extra notes. I loved the detail that Lucia assigns an animal/vegetable essence to everyone she meets (i.e. – elk, avocado, porcupine). It’s such a fun and evocative representation of a personality and I loved that touch. On the other hand, I was less impressed with the ending. I felt like the writing for the ending dropped off from the rest of the story and I wasn’t super satisfied with that. However, I did like where/how the story ended as far as the plot and relationships go, which is the important thing.

Keep an eye out for this one, officially published on January 16, 2018!

This ARC was provided to me courtesy of First to Read and Pamela Dorman Books in exchange for an honest review.

There were so many passages and moments that stood out to me while I was reading. Ranging in topic from reflections on relationships to culture to, particularly, the realities of mental illness, there were a lot that I wanted to share with all of you. Here’s a selection:

“But the truth is, I’m still not sure how to tell what’s real – because when you’re inside it, it’s your
reality, and if your own perception of the world isn’t valid, then what is?”

“These days were forever, life pouring into me all thick and spicy and I was bottomless.”

“But what would it be, I wonder, to conduct one’s life as a Chinese life instead of just a life? I speak Chinese, I cook Chinese food, practice tai-chi on occasion and drink oolong tea, but to flaunt one’s authenticity seem terribly gauche. I’m human first, aren’t I? Aren’t we all?”

“Saudade. A vague longing for something that cannot exist again, or perhaps never did.”

“Divinely blessed, my thoughts popped like firecrackers, my heart swelled with happiness, my body exuded a magnetic energy.”

“And then, her worst fear: that line between her sister and the illness was becoming irrevocably blurred.”

“I think love is just a romantic way of explaining selflessness.”

“In grief, the future seems impossible.”

One thought on “Everything Here is Beautiful

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s