Adapted from: GoodReads
An interesting exploration of mental illness and the power of opening up, of confronting our difficulties, of trusting that things will get better with time, some effort and the right support. All Things New is a surprising novel that is nicely woven together and will leave readers slightly dazed, but overall satisfied.
Note: This review is based on an advanced text of All Things New by Lauren Miller.
All Things New is the story of Jessa, a beautiful 16-year-old struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and self-doubt, and hiding it all behind a mask that resembles “normal”. But after a car crash Jessa, luckily mostly unharmed, is left with scars on her face. She declares these show the true state of her mind and her struggle with mental illness. Not only is she physically altered, suddenly Jessa can see things – inexplicable wounds on people’s faces that no one else notices.
As Jessa pieces together what she is seeing, possibly manifestations of people’s mental illnesses as physical wounds, she learns a lot about how we as a society and as individuals cope with mental illnesses and personal stresses. Jessa is very against therapy at the beginning of the book, but gradually she realizes the power of opening up, not because anyone else can “solve her problems” but because by talking about something, the burden can become lighter. I found this quote super on point regarding the power of vocalizing worries; “My instinct is to say no, right away, without thinking. But in this moment I do want to talk about it, if only to get out from under the weight of it, even for a second, for one breath.” (p.99)
The novels is very well put together with bits of Descartes’ philosophy and also a sustained metaphor through the presence of the novel A Portrait of Dorian Gray – which brings the whole story to a deeper place involving truth, reality and perception.
In my Opinion
This book was a lot of things. First, it was very hard to read – I found the scenes in which Jessa was in the hospital to be very accurate, to the point that I found it a bit triggering as someone who has spent some unpleasant time in hospital myself.
Then it was extremely intriguing. The idea of physical manifestations of mental illness and struggle was really well laid out; thought Jessa took time realizing it, the reader catches on right away, I think.
Next, the story got deep with the introduction of a cryptic guide, Doctor I, philosophy, and classic literature. I love when a contemporary novel gets into something a bit meatier than just daily life and this was exactly what I was hoping for!
And finally, the story ended in an unexpected way, sort of. Reaching back to the very beginning SPOILER: to suggest that the first man on scene at Jessa’s accident, possibly the same “Doctor I” Jessa has been interacting with, is her guardian angel. I think what perplexed me most about this was the sudden introduction of religion, the book didn’t feel like a religious story until the last like 30 pages when a chapel became a central plot point and this whole idea was put forth. It felt a bit hokey, a bit like it was taking away from the realness of the novel, of all the mental illnesses discussed by SPOILER: looping in seeing angels into the mix. But in other ways the ending was very predictable; Marshall’s story ending in a good way personally and also with regards to his relation with Jessa, Hannah put herself on a healing path, Jessa and her father reconcile a lot of past unspoken things which was sweet…
Another surprising thing was that SPOILER: Jessa stops seeing imaginary wounds by the end of the novel. I guess it was meant to give her a new perspective but not to become her super-power for life. Jessa’s unique ability helped her heal and let her help a few people close to her, and then it faded. Perhaps delivering a message about how nothing lasts, but that’s okay because you just have to enjoy the benefits, or make the most of things while you can!
Lots of great things happening in this novel, despite the partly pull-the-rug-from-under-you ending, All Things New is a good concept with good delivery and a mostly solid finish; this one is worth a read.
Have you ever experienced a similar experience of being blindsided by a book? Which one? I would love to hear about it in the comments!!