A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Genre: Contemporary, Mental Health, YA
Publication date: September 5, 2017
by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
From the author of Our Chemical Hearts comes the hilarious, reality-bending tale of two outsiders facing their greatest fears about life and love—one debilitating phobia at a time.
Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can’t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.
The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.
Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.
Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she’d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.
-A copy was provided by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers for review-
Everyone raved about Our Chemical Hearts when it came out last year but because my tbr is overflowing and I am always short on time, I never did get around to reading it. A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares immediately caught my attention because it had such a cutesy title, cover & blurb but don’t let any of that fool you because this book will fucking break your heart.
A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is such a raw, poignant exploration of mental health and I don’t even know where to begin unpacking my feels for those books. (But also, can we all agree that unpacking feels for books you love is so much harder than talking about books you hate?)
Esther Solar believes her family has been cursed and that is why they are doomed to have ONE GREAT FEAR that will take over their lives and eventually lead to their deaths. Her father is agoraphobic, her mom afraid of bad luck and her brother afraid of the dark. Esther may have many fears but she hasn’t quiet discovered the ONE GREAT FEAR that will take over her life and eventually lead to her death. Her way around this issue is to slowly catalog all her fears and to avoid everything so that nothing has the chance to become her ONE GREAT FEAR. I think we can all agree that isn’t the best idea either so when Jonah swoops back into her life, she is forced to reexamine her family, her identity and what she is really afraid of.
Let’s be clear though, this is not the kind of book where a boy saves in and saves the damsel in distress. The boy swoops in and steals $50, her phone and a fruit roll-up before he is useful at all to the mc. But also, just generally, Jonah and Esther have a give and take relationship that isn’t as obvious at first but becomes more obvious as you get to understand their dynamic and Jonah better (since the book is only told from Esther’s point of view.)
I love how beautifully this book dwells into mental illnesses and how it unpacks the many different layers of how it can impact one’s life. It doesn’t stigmatized and doesn’t romanticize what is going one while at the same time offers tools to the readers.
The characters in The Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, the relationships b/w friends, family & romantic interests and the exploration of mental health make it a strong package but also, the underlying tale of Death (the character) is so intriguing and adds another exciting dimension to the novel. Overall, this book is one you don’t want to miss out on and really, you should just push it to the tippy-top of your TBR if you’re in need for a book that will make you cry and laugh at the same time!