When We Collided: review

April 5, 2016 2016, 4.5 star books, emery lord, realistic fiction, Wendy 21 ★★★★½

When We Collided: reviewWhen We Collided by Emery Lord
Published by Bloomsbury on April 5th, 2016
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 352 pages
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
AmazonIndieboundBarnes & NobleGoodreads
four-half-stars
We are seventeen and shattered and still dancing. We have messy, throbbing hearts, and we are stronger than anyone could ever know…

Jonah never thought a girl like Vivi would come along.

Vivi didn’t know Jonah would light up her world.

Neither of them expected a summer like this…a summer that would rewrite their futures.

In an unflinching story about new love, old wounds, and forces beyond our control, two teens find that when you collide with the right person at just the right time, it will change you forever.

Sometimes, you’ll meet a girl who bursts into a room and draws all eyes to her. Someone so charming and vivid that you can’t help but love and envy her–and perhaps wonder at how she burns so brightly, because there are times when it almost hurts to be in her orbit.

Vivi Alexander shows up in a sleepy beach town one summer, and turns Jonah’s life upside down. In the stoic routine and worry of his life, Vivi is dazzlingly beautiful in her vintage dresses and bright lipstick, as well as kind to his little sister and wise beyond her years. Their attraction is immediate, and they’re soon sneaking kisses when people aren’t looking, he’s making her caprese sandwiches and leaving them outside her door, and she’s pulling him into a whirlwind of joyous outings and scandalous liasons. Their romance is sweet and funny and endearing, especially because they’re drawn to each other’s personalities and histories and individuality.

The sweetness aches somewhere in my ribs. It could wreck a girl–this handsome guy, shirtless in the summer sun, making sure his little sister’s neck won’t get burned.

For most of the day, his eyes stay on the littles(…) it’s only once in awhile that I catch his eyes on me. But when I do, he gives me a slow smile, like we’re both in on a secret.

And Jonah’s perspective:

She looks like a lemon meringue pie tastes. Sunny, tangy and sweet.

(…)

Most of the time, I feel drunk on Vivi. Lightheaded and wanting more, more, more. But then there are moments when being with her feels like a cruel hangover. Or maybe it’s just that I am cast in the role of Buzzkill.

The thing is, sometimes the girl who sweeps you up into adventures is hiding a secret–one that can’t be easily fixed by a few quick strokes of an author’s pen by the end of summer.

It’s 288 pages into When We Collided before the words “bipolar disorder” are used, and yet their impact is felt on every page. Emery Lord puts us in Vivi’s head with skillful writing and gives us a feeling of astonishing familiarity–she shows us naturally and incrementally how Vivi’s thoughts can be dizzyingly happy, then distracted, then fiercely loving, then bewildered and defiant, and then desperately lonely and sad. It’s a mind that can be quiet and contemplative, and a mind that can be racing a million miles a minute–and it’s a mind ruled by a valiant heart beating inside a incandescent sixteen-year-old who’s doing the best she can. The only other time I’ve read a YA book that portrayed mental illness with such distinct clarity, empathy, and matter-of-factness was in Wild Awake, which was one of my favorite books of 2013. When We Collided also shows us the different ways people cope and grieve and process, not only through Vivi and Jonah, but also through Jonah’s mom and Vivi’s relationship with her dad.

Balancing serious underlying topics with family dynamics and romance is no easy task, but Lord does this with ease, as well as with beautiful imagery and feeling. This book has similar themes and settings as a Sarah Dessen novel, except it’s deeper and brighter, and it’s painterly with words like Jandy Nelson’s books, except it’s sharper and more true.

After I drafted my review, I read a few other reviews, which all agreed that the serious arcs were handled exceptionally well. I was surprised to find that some readers had a problem connecting with Vivi, however; even if I didn’t know people like her in my life, I feel like I understand her so well from the way her POV was described, and my heart was so full with feeling for her attempts to make sense and meaning of the hand she is dealt. The other issue readers seemed to have was with the romance, which also took me aback, because I loved it! There are so many lovely moments in which the two of them appreciate each other, there are seriously swoony “big gestures” that don’t feel hammy, their physical relationship is portrayed in a healthy, positive way, and they support each other’s dreams even if they don’t see themselves in them. View Spoiler »

When We Collided View Spoiler » ends happily as far as I’m concerned–and in a way that feels both realistic and emotionally true. This book is not to be missed if you are a fan of contemporary YA, and I fully expect it to land on my best of 2016 list this year; it’s a beautiful book that’s beautifully done.

And despite the romance at its heart, it does not romanticize mental illness in any way. If anything, it feels painfully truthful.

An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.

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21 Responses to “When We Collided: review”

  1. ChatEbooks

    Although When We Collided has mixed reviews, I still think it’s one of the most interesting books worthy of re-reading. The fact that the author used alternating POVs contributed to the character development making the book more interesting. I might pick it up again soon.

  2. Alissa

    When I first started hearing buzz When We Collided, I worried it was yet another (stereotypical) Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl meets Brooding-Sensitive-Boy story of the sort that’s been exhausting the YA market since Looking For Alaska made it big. But your review makes it sound like it has quite a bit more depth than the average John Green copycat. I’m more inclined to read it now than I was before. Thank you.

    • Wendy Darling

      I always worry about that too, since that trope is so prevalent now, and I’ve read a number of books where the problematic messaging makes me extremely angry. But you needn’t worry about that here, Vivi is fully realized person with agency, and she isn’t sitting around to merely be anyone’s life lesson. I hope you have a good experience with this if you decide to pick it up.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Lady Renegades Blog Tour: Rachel Hawkins on Funny YA

      • Alissa

        Thanks, Wendy. Good to know :) I’m definitely going to pick it up at some point really soon (in fact, it’s on my short list of “Books To Be Read This Spring”. I’m pretty sure I saw it on our New Book Shelf recently–and there may even be an ARC floating around the library staff area.

        • Wendy Darling

          I’d love to hear what you think of it, if you happen to remember to tell me! You might also find this review from the Disability in Kid Lit peeps interesting: http://disabilityinkidlit.com/2016/04/15/review-when-we-collided-by-emery-lord/

          I really appreciate their take on books; in this case, I don’t necessarily agree with all the criticisms (or at least, I think there are reasons why the author chose to/not to do some things rather than others, but there’s always good food for thought. They do like the book overall though, and I’m glad to see the credit for what the author does do/portray exceedingly well.

          And funnily enough, I haven’t read any John Green at all, due to a lot of factors, but partly the MPDG thing. I did see THE FAULT IN OUR STARS movie (we reviewed it here), and I liked it better than I expected to.
          Wendy Darling recently posted…Lady Renegades Blog Tour: Rachel Hawkins on Funny YA

          • Alissa

            Hi Wendy. I’ll absolutely let you know what I think. In fact, the book was waiting for me in my box when I got into work today, so that’s probably one of the things I’ll be doing this weekend. After hearing so much about this one, I’m excited to sit down and read it for myself.

          • Alissa

            Finished it last night and, wow! I really liked how the author handled the character development. And I’m glad she used alternating viewpoint. This tactic doesn’t always work, but in this case it helped me really get inside Vivi’s and Jonah’s heads better than had the story been told from the POV of just one of the characters. Also, I want to note I think the author did a superb job handling a character with bi-polar disorder (I’ve known people struggling with this, and the author was both sensitive and accurate). Had it not been for your review, I may not have given this one a go. But I’m happy I did.

  3. A Canadian Girl

    I avoided reading your spoilers but I’m excited to get my hands on a copy of this one. It’s great to know that the bipolar disorder is handled beautifully. Hopefully I love it like The Start of You and Me because I wasn’t a fan of Open Road Summer.
    A Canadian Girl recently posted…Review: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh good, I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of this. It’s funny, I really liked ORS except for the weird relationship the main character had with almost every girl she met, and I still need to read THE START OF ME AND YOU. But this one is by far the better book, imo. Mental illness is portrayed very matter-of-factly, so that you might not even notice at first what’s going on, even though there are obvious things from the very beginning; I think that kind of subtlety is hard to portray, as it’s very true to life of the way you might discover someone you know is struggling.

  4. Alexa S.

    Wendy, your thoughts on When We Collided are absolutely spot on and gorgeously expressed. I think you’ve captured so well what the book was like, who the characters are and why this novel was as amazing as it was. I loved this book, as I’ve loved Emery’s previous work, and I can’t wait for more!

  5. Carina Olsen

    Aw, gorgeous review Wendy :D I am so so happy you ended up loving this book so much. <3 Thrilled you loved the romance and the characters. I don't think the writing would be for me, and I would so not be happy with that ending, lol, but the rest of the book seems pretty sweet :) Heard some great things about this one. So happy you weren't disappointed sweetie :) Thank you for sharing your lovely thoughts about it. <3 Hugs.
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #234

  6. Denise

    I’ve heard so much about this, and I really want to read it. I’ve heard loads of glowing reviews like yours on how beautiful it is, so I’m super excited for it! I love the cover too, so I hope I’ll be able to read it. I’m not sure on the romance, but I like the sound of the characters!

    I’m glad you enjoyed this! Thanks for sharing ♥
    Denise | The Bibliolater
    Denise recently posted…The Get to Know Me Tag

    • Wendy Darling

      Vivi is a vivid character–I’ve seen some readers say they didn’t like her or understand her, and I kind of understand why. She reminds me of some people I know very well though, so I feel like I just get her. I hope you end up liking it too, Brenda!