Review: ‘When We Collided’ by Emery Lord

I picked this book up after seeing it recommended for fans of I’ll Give You the Sun and All the Bright Places. I love YA fiction and I’ve been interested in the surge of YA novels exploring subjects related to mental health recently. This story follows Jonah and Vivi in the beautiful (fictional) town of Verona Cove.

When We Collided

Jonah is seventeen years old and dealing with the death of his father six months ago. His mother is lost to grief and depression, his older siblings and him just about holding it together to care for the three youngest. Vivi is feeling better, better than she used to, she’s sure. She and her artist mother are in Verona Cove just for the summer and she’s making the most of it. Every morning she takes one pill and throws the other into the ocean. These two meet one morning over pottery-painting with Jonah’s littlest sister, and from there Vivi storms straight on into his life like a whirlwind.

I really enjoyed the characters in this book, and the lovely family that is the Daniels. The amount of relationships that Lord manages to explores within a relatively short novel is impressive – we get a sense of how all six of the Daniels siblings relate to each other, and a sense of the many relationships Vivi develops within Verona Cove. The seaside town is a well developed setting for Emery Lord’s story – it functions as more than backdrop, and I really enjoyed how Lord pulls out connections with the landscape and the architecture of the town, how connections are drawn between personal relationships and where they take place.

The various elements of the plot also reflect interestingly on the connections between mental health and those relationships with people around us, in particular our families. The absence of presence of fathers and how those situations came to be are explored interestingly. Vivi’s father is not around, but she wonders, was that through choice? Who manufactured his absence from her life? Jonah’s father is absent but heartbreakingly so, because he would never have wanted to leave his family at the time he did. They nuance of people not being there and how you cope with knowing the differences is gently touched on and contrasted through these two young people.

As I mentioned, this novel is also an exploration of mental health, and how hard it can both to seek help, and to offer help to someone struggling. Vivi has bipolar disorder, and struggles to separate the person she wants to be – the person she is, when she’s in control – and the person her illness turns her into, when she is pushed out of the driving seat.

[mild spoilers this para]
What I really enjoyed about this story and its various conclusions is that for Vivi, taking her medication is never made out as something which reduces her. It’s acknowledged that different kinds of medication are available and some won’t work for certain people. It made me so happy that such a positive message is what Lord chose to convey. Medication should be something we are not ashamed of accepting to manage our mental health – it can be as essential a fixture as needing glasses or a walking stick.

I was a little concerned that this book would be very similar to All the Bright Places, and while there are thematic connections between the two and they strike a vaguely similar tone, I was pleased to find that this does stand as an entirely separate story with distinct characters and influences of its own. Personally, I preferred the relationship in When We Collided to that of the other book.

I absolutely recommend this for fans of YA, of romantic fiction and stories around mental health. There are a long list of things I enjoyed about this book, many of which became more apparent on reflection, emphasizing the talent with which Lord spins the tale. I will be very interested to see what this author brings out in future.

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