One of the biggest differences between novels and real life (maybe the only real difference) is that novels are carefully, delicately, thoughtfully built. A good novel is exactingly crafted. Nothing happens by chance. Every character, every plot twist, every passage of dialogue—it’s all perfectly arranged by the author. Every sentence is there for a reason; everything that happens is in service to the story.
Life, by contrast, is an unpredictable collection of days, a completely open-ended story. We make plans and decisions; we have desires and goals and ideas about what we want for ourselves and those we love. But unlike authors, we don’t have complete control. We have almost no control at all. The illusion of control is nice—but when it comes to the big stuff, it’s out of our hands.
That’s why it is so wonderful—and so rare—when a book captures how absolutely messy it is to be a human on earth. In History Is All You Left Me, Adam Silvera masterfully crafts a story that flows off the page. I couldn’t put the book down. It was beautifully built, and yet the architecture was hidden; it never felt contrived or boring. It just felt so deeply, honestly, humanly messy.
The book is narrated by seventeen year old Griffin, following the death of his ex-boyfriend and best friend Theo. After moving across the country for college, Theo started dating another guy, and when he dies suddenly, his new boyfriend Jackson comes to New York for the funeral. Griffin has to deal with both the loss of his first love and his feelings surrounding Jackson, who also loved Theo.
History Is All You Left Me is about grief, about falling in and out of love, about what people mean to each other and how those meanings shift and blur and snap with time. Nothing about the story is neat. It is long and winding and complicated and shifting. This is how life is. We make big mistakes. We surprise ourselves. We find ourselves in situations where we don’t feel the way we think we should feel. In our hearts, things change rapidly and unpredictably. So many things happen to us over the course of our lives, and often those things do not have clear reasons or clean endings. There’s nothing linear about our lives except that we’re all born and we’re all going to die. There is nothing linear about this book, either. It refuses to simplify. It is not a straight line.
It is no small feat to craft a novel that feels so true to the big, complicated mess of life and yet also works on a structural level. History Is All You Left Me does just that. It opened a lot of messy questions, and though the novel itself was a completely satisfying read, it wasn’t afraid to let all those questions sit on the page, some of them unanswered.