New Release: 1-16-18
Mira T. Lee’s novel Everything Here is Beautiful is a Viking title that was provided to me by Penguin Group as a digital review copy ahead of publication via Netgalley.com in return for an honest review.
One of my best books of the year in 2017 was Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong. I liked it because it was equal parts sad and happy. Reading it made me sad, but it also taught me things about love, family, and coping with mental illness. The book left me with a smile that a tear passed through as it fell. It was beautiful and uncomplicated.
Lee’s novel Everything Here is Beautiful takes that idea to the next level. Miranda and Lucia have been brought to the US from China by their mother and they live in New York. The central concern in the book is that Lucia has a combination of bipolar disorder and schizo-affective disorder among other things. Miranda grows up being forced into the role of caretaker for Lucia, because their mom dies of cancer, and this power imbalance affects their relationship and the relationships that they find themselves in throughout their lives.
At first this book felt like it lacked focus, but as I continued to stick with it I began to see the pattern. Lee explores immigration issues, misunderstanding of mental illness and how that exists across cultures, and most importantly of all, agency – when someone has a debilitating illness of any kind, who gets to say what that person gets to do? When is it their life and when is it the caretaker’s? How do we allow freedom while taking care of someone who cannot always take care of themselves?
Miranda’s inability to step back and allow Lucia to make her own decisions about her life was both damaging and life-saving to Lucia. If you walk away from reading this novel with one pondering, it should be to explore the relationship between self-care and obligation, between when to help and when to let go, and maybe more than knowing that difference is thinking of how you would do what was necessary should the situation present itself. Everything Here Is Beautiful does a wonderful job of helping us all to understand that this conflict is never as easily resolved as we might think.
This was a wonderful yet challenging read. It will ask you to feel things that might be uncomfortable, and that can be tough. This read is so necessary to expanding our understanding and acceptance of mental illness in general, and more specifically how families can effectively manage and assist when someone they love is struggling. if we all read more books like this, maybe we can all learn to support each other and survive together.