The title of The Law of Loving Others is a quote taken from Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, “But the law of loving others could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable.” It’s a lovely quote and an apt title for a book that discusses the relationships we have with different people; how we behave in our closest relationships and how the problems our friends and families deal with are the mirror we put up to ourselves, the way we assess our own lives. And so it is with Emma and how she deals with her mother’s breakdown over one winter break from school.
Sex is difficult for authors to write about in any genre, you only need to look at the Bad Sex Awards which take place every year and always feature really well-known and revered writers. But it’s doubly difficult if your audience is YA; How much do you include? Where do you draw the line? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, prompted by slightly differing posts from BookRiot here and BookDaily here.
A lot of the YA books that I’ve read lately imagine their protagonists in situations that the average YA hopefully isn’t in: embroiled in some dystopian marriage nightmare (The Selection); dealing with parents who beat them up/contemplating suicide (All The Bright Places); or running from people who are trying to kill them (Unwind). So it’s quite refreshing to read a book about a normal teenager dealing with day-to-day insecurities even if it is through the prism of death; seventeen year old Mia is in a car crash that kills her family and in grave danger in hospital, she has to decide if she should live or die. She runs back through her life so far to make the choice.
All The Bright Places is about a girl, “who learns to live from a boy who intends to die”. It reminded me of the idea that everyone sits on the same “mental illness” line and we fluctuate up and down it – towards sanity and insanity – at various points in our lives, at times feeling fine and at others, a little more shaky (maybe it’s from the book Going Sane by Adam Phillips?). And so it is with Violet and Finch, two depressed teenagers, who meet each other on the bell tower of their school as both are considering jumping off. It’s reminiscent of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down. Finch guides Violet off the ledge and saves her reputation at school by claiming she saved his life and not the other way around. In return, he takes the opportunity to make her his partner in a class project (he’s known as “Freak”, she’s the popular kid) and so this wonderful book begins.