Title: We Are Inevitable (review copy)
Author: Gayle Forman
Genre/Themes: Contemporary YA, Substance abuse, Mental Health, Depression, Anxiety
Blurb from Goodreads
‘I got this whole-body feeling . . . it was like a message from future me to present me, telling me that in some way we weren’t just bound to happen, that we had, in some sense, already happened. It felt . . . inevitable.’
So far, the inevitable hasn’t worked out so well for Aaron Stein.
While his friends have gone to college and moved on with their lives, Aaron’s been left behind in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, running a failing bookshop with his dad, Ira. What he needs is a lucky break, the good kind of inevitable.
And then he meets Hannah. Incredible Hannah – magical, musical, brave and clever. Could she be the answer? And could they – their relationship, their meeting – possibly be the inevitable Aaron’s been waiting for?
A heartbreaking story about finding yourself and your people, from the bestselling author of If I Stay. For fans of John Green and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
No one makes me cry quite like Gayle Forman. She’s an author that I just click with. Reading her novels over the years has always been a moving experience and this was no exception. We Are Inevitable is a classic Gayle Forman YA. Here she tackles themes of addiction and loss, and crafts a quietly thought provoking and beautiful story that explores these difficult topics in a deeply sensitive manner.
The book follows main character Aaron. Aaron is the owner of his family bookshop since his parents put it in his name in an effort to offload the debt that they were all drowning in. Debt that has been caused in no small part by Aaron’s deceased brother Sandy’s substance addiction, and by the actions it caused him to make. But the bookstore is failing; Aaron’s father seems to be living in another world, his mother has left town, and Aaron is struggling to stay afloat. He is riddled with both anger and sadness. He feels failure is inevitable and this sense of utter hopelessness is what drives the plot.
The blurb for this would have a potential reader believe that the meeting of Hannah and the development of a romance with her is what changes Aaron’s life, but I think the blurb is somewhat misleading. As the real catalyst for the character journey that Aaron embarks on comes in the form of Chad, a former high school jock of the meathead variety who became disabled following an accident. Yes I’m somewhat irked that disability was used to teach Chad a life lesson in order to become a better person etc etc… it’s such a tired trope with ableist connotations; ie portraying disability as a punishment, but his character and personality was well written and compelling to read about so I’m willing to somewhat overlook the ableist undertones as real effort was given to creating an authentic representation of a person who became physically disabled after an accident.
What Chad does is sort of get in Aaron’s face. He almost browbeats him into becoming his friend by getting him to attend a music gig under misleading circumstances, and this then exposes Aaron to experiences outside the all encompassing suffocation that he was dealing with by not living a full life outside of his family bookshop. At the gig Aaron meets Hannah and very quickly falls for her. In Hannah he sees this person who will rescue him from the bleak inevitability of where his life is leading.
What follows is a journey of personal discovery for Aaron… even if he doesn’t know that’s the journey he is on as he‘s emotionally blinkered by the anger he feels towards his brother for being an addict.
The book is what I would term a very quiet read. Much of Aaron’s grief and anger is almost underplayed in the earlier parts of the novel which means that a lot of Aaron’s actions initially seem toxic and make him distinctly unlikeable. However it’s through these flaws of character that the story truly comes alive. There’s a messiness to grief, to hopelessness, and to anger. This isn’t a book that romanticises these emotions in any way, and it’s through feeling the full spectrum of human emotion that Aaron grows as a person and makes the journey to the book’s richly rewarding end point. Each of the supporting characters was interesting in their own right too with none feeling too stereotypical; Hannah was a little bit manic pixie dream girl to start with but when Aaron finally took his blinkers off and let her show him the real her it was the absolute best part of the book in my opinion.
Personally I found the topic of substance addiction to be very sensitively handled. There’s honest discussion and depiction about the blame that is placed on the shoulders of those who struggle with substance addiction. This book in no way blames addicts, that sentiment however forms part of the evolution of the story so please be advised if that is something that could upset you as a reader. At the end of the novel Forman has a very moving and informative afterword that dispels any misconceived notions of victim blaming.
As an unabashed fan of all things book related I really adored the bookshop setting of this book and the incorporation of many bookish references throughout the narrative. In many ways this novel was the perfect love letter to physical book stores which I think will be all the more keenly felt by this book’s readership because of the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in the forced shutdown of bookshops as we all had to stay home and practice social distancing.
I found this novel to be wonderfully warm, filled with memorable characters, and rich with moments of true heartbreak and deep personal growth. Recommended to fans of contemporary YA.
*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*
Publishing 1st June 2021, Simon & Schuster Children’s UK