Sometimes it takes looking at someone and conceptualizing that person to truly understand something about your own identity. Whether this be learning of a TV show that changes your life or helping to realize your own sexuality through a role model’s coming out. That is one of the most incredibly powerful things about fiction: it gives us a way to better see parts of ourselves through other characters.
So much of this self-reflection is tied up in Adam Silvera’s sophomore novel History is All You Left Me. This novel is the perfect thing to read during Pride week, because it shows young men who are gay, bi, and questioning try to untangle their life. We follow Griffin as he copes with the death of Theo, his ex-boyfriend and best friend, and tries to navigate his relationship with Theo’s new boyfriend from college, Jackson.
Oscillating between Griffin’s present grief and the mess of the past, Griffin speaks directly to Theo, almost pleading for an explanation of his loss and how he is supposed to continue on with his life. Though Griffin focalizes the whole novel around Theo, the most interesting relationships is that of Griffin and Jackson.
Jackson flies down to Theo and Griffin’s hometown for the funeral and is only supposed to stay a few days. However, Griffin asks him to stay longer because he feels that Jackson is the only one who is going through the same form of grief. They’re the only two who can really understand each other’s suffering.
However there’s another interesting parallel between these two: one of the first things we learn of Jackson is that he looks quite a bit like Griffin. Griffin takes this as a sign that Theo was never really over him and that he still had a chance with him. He thought he could still get his happily ever after with the boy he’d grown up with.
Tied up in all this is also the struggles of Griffin’s mental health. The romance and mental health are entangled from the start of the book. In fact, when he and Theo came out to each other, they count down and agree to tell each other their secret on 3. Theo blurts out that he has a crush on Griffin and Griffin blurts out that he thinks he has OCD.
When he’s with Theo, he feels safer, but his OCD seems to become worse and worse. His habits become so ingrained in him that he has panic attacks if he is not able to count thing in pairs or stand on someone’s left. When Theo dies, he spirals until he finally starts talking to a therapist.
However, one of the most incredible and beautiful realizations of the novel happens when Griffin and Jackson are talking about Theo. Griffin opens up about the fact that when he was with Theo, he sometimes felt like his OCD was what made him special and part of the reason he thought Theo loved him.
He also thinks back to the time when Theo made him believe that if he waited, they would probably get back together, a promise that—to me—seemed wholly unfair to impose on a person. In this same conversation, Jackson confesses his insecurity in his relationship with Theo, because he was so sure that Theo would eventually return to Griffin because they were each other’s first for almost everything.
It is these moments that you come to understand the imperfections of such relationships. It is a flawed cast of characters but they are able to better understand themselves and their grief through conversation.
It’s a really complex and beautiful novel and one that makes you turn inward in the way that you speak to people and interact with them—both romantically and otherwise. It displays diversity and does so in a nuanced way, and it’s the perfect thing to read this week. I couldn’t put it down and cannot recommend it highly enough.