“Can you fall in love when you’re falling apart?”
Mental health and romance – it’s certainly not the easiest combination of topics for a book!
Set in Verona Cove in California, When We Collided is the story of Jonah Daniels – a sweet-natured seventeen-year-old boy, dealing with the grief of losing his father and the terrible impact it has had upon his unravelling family. He meets Vivi Alexander, a troubled girl with an exuberant personality, who has come to town on a summer break and to escape the dark memories of recent months.
The story is alternately narrated by these two young voices, both dealing with their own challenges in very different ways. Whilst Jonah’s voice is kind, measured and earthy, Vivi’s is bold, intense and increasingly fragile.
There’s lots that I loved about this book, the first thing being Jonah – he’s such an incredibly sweet character, who loves to cook and tries to win his way into Vivi’s heart by creating dishes to impress her. He’s kind and tolerant, but not incapable of breaking down, which makes him all the more believable. His family scenario – his mother retreats into her room, leaving Jonah and his older siblings to care for their three younger siblings and to manage all aspects of finance and house-keeping too – reminded me a lot of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which is an awesome book (by Peter Hedges) and film (starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Johnny Depp). Seriously guys, if you haven’t read/seen this, I highly recommend looking it up.
The second amazing thing about When We Collided is the writing! It really is superb. It’s dramatic and colourful and it perfectly captures all the giddiness and fear of being a teenager falling in love for the very first time. Here’s a really gorgeous bit:
“At first, we stay standing together, but then the chorus plays, and it’s free and alive. So the serious-eyed boy in the penguin suit takes the butterfly-winged girl by the hands and spins her. We sway our hips and stamp our feet like the drunken revelry of turning sour grapes into wine. Our bodies block the beam from the lighthouse as we wave our arms and, even though we can’t see it, we’re casting shadows onto the sky.”
Quite a few people who I’ve spoken to about this book said that they found the instalove between Vivi and Jonah a bit over the top and unbelievable, but I’m not sure I really agree with that. There were a few bits which I found pretty cringey, but I think that Vivi is such a full-on, extreme character, you can believe that love would be an instant thing for her and that somebody with that kind of intense personality could easily inspire similar feelings in a boy like Jonah.
So, Vivi though… I did warm to her, but I’ll be honest, she kind of annoyed me and I feel a bit bad about saying this, because I think the intensity of her character is partially a reflection of the mental health issues that we learn she has later on and which I think Emery Lord has reflected upon and portrayed really skillfully. Vivi is suffering with bipolar disorder, she’s been given tablets to control her condition, which she decides to stop taking and gradually we see the condition grip her personality more and more, as her behaviour becomes increasingly manic, misjudged and over-the-top. But in fact Vivi’s intensity isn’t what really annoyed me about her, rather my problem was that found her a little too quirky for the sake of being quirky – and this is something that personally irritates me! If any other readers felt similarly or equally want to defend Vivi to me, I’d love to chat to you!
Who else has read this book? What did you guys think of the portrayal of Bipolar disorder? Or grief? Was the book to insta-lovey for you? And does anyone have a page reference for the incredible bit where Jonah talks about using the past and present tense in describing his dad? That bit really stuck with me, but I couldn’t find it again to write it down, and I’d love to know!