Published by Bloomsbury on April 5th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Mental Health
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.
I don’t think I’ve ever been this conflicted about a rating and, even more generally, my opinion about a book. When We Collided is a well-written, important story with characters that are arguably presented in a realistic manner considering their circumstances. It has all the depth that you would expect from an Emery Lord book. And yet. This book made me uncomfortable.
When We Collided is a love story. It’s a kind of all-encompassing romance that would potentially turn me off in a different case if it weren’t for these characters in their specific circumstances. Vivi is bipolar, and as quickly becomes apparent in the book, she’s off her meds. She wants to experience life to the fullest, to go wherever her heart takes her and do whatever it tells her to do. She’s full of life and spirit, and as such, she instantly draws in the people around her – the local townsfolk, the grumpy police officer, and, of course, Jonah. Jonah is incredibly strong, loyal, and patient. Since his dad’s death and his mother’s ensuing depression, he’s taken over a large part of the parenting responsibilities in his 7-person family. When he meets Vivi, she teaches him to look at life differently, see possibilities for fun and magic in everything, and to enjoy the moment. It was a lesson he dearly needed.
Here’s the thing about Vivi. I like her and I don’t like her. Her voice is vivid and unique, and I think she portrays bipolar disorder really well. She has ups – lots of ups – and she has downs as well. She can fly off the handle and get upset when there’s nothing to be upset about, and she can get irrationally jealous at Jonah for talking to another girl though she would balk if he ever said the same about her. (In fact, she does get mad at him when he doesn’t want her skinny dipping in front of other guys.) Her disorder can push her to manipulate the people around her because she has her creative ideas that she must implement right away – and no one can stand in her way. And yeah. I think it’s realistic and an accurate portrayal of a bipolar teenager. But it also made me really uncomfortable at times.
I know that logically I should actually praise this book for the depth to her character. Because yeah, she has irrational and dramatic outbursts and few of her actions make sense sometimes, but there is a certain charm to it and it all does stem from a concrete reason. Whereas in other contemporary romances characters with no disorder who behaved like this would have me almost screaming, in this story you definitely know where it’s coming from. And in that sense, I felt a lot of sympathy for Vivi. But it was still tough to read at times, maybe because it kind of felt like watching a car crash in slow motion. You know things are going badly, and you know why, but you can’t do anything to stop it.
I did really like Jonah. I thought the scenes with his family were so adorable but also heartbreaking. It was really impressive how this kid, who is still in high school, works together with his two older siblings to raise his three younger ones. He’s sad, frustrated, and anxious, but he loves those littles so freaking much. And I did too. I loved seeing his passion for cooking and more than anything how much he cared about the people around him. There’s one moment where he kind of lost it because of the pressure that has fallen upon him, and my heart truly broke right then and there. So I was glad that Vivi got him to find happiness again, even if there were some less fun and arguably unhealthy moments to their relationship.
The romance kind of confused me at times, and this is where I feel like this book maybe tried to do too much. Vivi and Jonah are pretty much obsessed with each other, but very little of the romantic scenes are actually shown in real time. For example, Vivi will mention “things” they did together in the outdoor shower at the beach, but it was actually hard at any one point to determine how far they’d actually gone. And maybe details were left out to try to keep the focus on the mental health aspect of the story, but the result is that there was a sort of tug of war between the romance and the bipolar disorder. Which was the true focus? Both and neither, and I think that may have diminished the feelsy effect of both.
What it really comes down to is that… it’s not you, book. It’s me. At the end of the day, this book just pushed a bit too hard on my boundaries. I like happy, fluffy contemporary stories. That’s just a personal preference, and there’s nothing wrong with books that are not that. But the effect that this book had on me and my mood made the overall reading experience an uncomfortable and slightly negative one. I honestly became irritable, moody, and down in my real life as a result of reading this. There were days when I came into work so sullen, I felt like I needed a personal day. So yeah, it’s a good story. Well-written and well-developed. But I don’t think I would care to revisit it.