Everything Here is Beautiful / by Chakriya Phal

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Being so early in the year, I find this quite bold to say but Everything Here is Beautiful is my favorite book of 2018! I read it without knowing too much of the plot, which I suggest you do too. Hint: skip the Goodreads synopsis. I honestly think it gives away too much. Just pick it up and dive right in. You'll thank me later. The story is about Chinese-American siblings, Miranda and Lucia - the first older and responsible, the latter a free-spirit and suffering from schizophrenia. Knowing little about the story allowed me to go into it without any expectations. It is a story that is heavy, rich and often times uncomfortable to read. As little as we talk about mental illnesses, we talk even less about Asian-Americans living with them. I see this book as a good stepping stone in beginning this crucial discussion. I have a family member with a mental illness and I have been looking so long for a book that made me feel not so alone.  

The story is told in multiple perspectives, sometimes in third person, other times in first person. It shouldn't work but it does, giving you a 360 degree look at how mental illness affects not only the person but those close to them. And when it is Lucia's turn to speak about her actions, you get an intimate portrait of a person struggling to reined in her "serpents." Lee does it with such sensitivity that my heart ached for Lucia. I was taken through an array of emotions, jumping from empathizing with the characters one minute to feeling frustrated by them the next. And I love that. It's what I look forward to in a book- characters so complex and multilayered that you can imagine them walking down your street.

...they said I “suffer” from schizoaffective disorder. That’s like the sampler plate of diagnoses, Best of Everything. But I don’t want to suffer. I want to live
— Lucia in Everything Here Is Beautiful

While this book is about sisterly bond, it also touches on immigration, parenthood, cultural misunderstandings, and interracial relationships. I felt connected, inspired, and sadden by the characters' choices. I plunged into the book, reading into the early morning, eager to see where the characters ended up. There was a whole section where I felt extremely anxious and mad. I can't tell you which section- you’ll have to read the book so we can compare notes. This book is so good it shook me when it was over and I hated saying goodbye. All the stars!

Side note:  This may sound weird but if you’re planning a literary dinner party, this book mentions a lot of food and would be the perfect inspiration. 

*Thank you Pamela Dorman Books (Penguin Group Viking) for the galley in exchange for an honest review.