A coming of age story that is at turns both dark and hopeful, My Heart & Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga offers a stark portrayal of life, and what it means to live, feel, and grieve.
Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.
There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.
Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.
I’ll confess, it took me a couple tries to finally read this book. The very first page contemplates what it’s like to die — and personally, I really don’t enjoy thinking too deeply, too often about that subject. And when I read, in general, it’s to escape and be entertained.
But My Heart & Other Black Holes is not the kind of book that’s meant merely to entertain. Warga dives head-first into the difficult subject of death and suicide. Not a pleasant theme for a book — but one that needs to be written about, read about, and discussed. And yet Warga’s book never comes off feeling like a PSA about suicide prevention; rather it comes from a place of deep contemplation. In her author’s note, Warga comments that she began writing this book to work through her own grief. The result is a story on a very serious, dark subject matter that is genuine — not forced.
Indeed, rather than glamorize death, or gloss over it, Warga discusses suicide, depression, grief, and mental illness quite matter-of-factly. The very fact that her narrator wants to die gives this book such a stunningly unique perspective. Aysel’s narrative can, at times, be disturbing because of this — but it’s that very blunt honestly that makes this story feel so honest.
What’s important to note is that this is not just a book about suicide. In fact, more than anything, I think My Heart & Other Black Holes is about depression and mental illness more than anything else — how it manifests itself, how it makes people think about themselves and the world, and how hard it can be to overcome and get help. But ultimately Warga shows that you can get help. And I am impressed by her ability to take such a dark subject matter and give it an ultimately hopeful spin.
My Heart & Other Black Holes is in stores February 10th.
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I’ll be co-hosting an upcoming episode of Late Night Debut, a Late Night Library podcast highlighting debut authors, featuring My Heart & Other Black Holes. We’ll be discussing the book, and I’ll be conducting a Q&A with Jasmine Warga.
Got any questions for Jasmine? Share them in the comments below for possible inclusion in the podcast interview.
Then be sure to listen to Jasmine’s episode of Late Night Debut, available March 12th.