After finishing up Song of a Captive Bird I was like, okay now on to something lighter — a novel about two sisters, one of whom is bipolar/schizophrenic (different diagnoses received through out the book) making their way in the world after the death of their 9780735221963_p0_v1_s550x406mother! But actually, despite the fact that many sad and depressing things happen in Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee, I really enjoyed this book.

The book is told from several points of view, which is really interesting with one character suffering from mental illness because you really see how everyone is trying their best, everyone is doing what they think is right, but it just doesn’t always work out well or result in people understanding each other. I really rooted for all the characters, particularly the sisters of course, at the beginning of the novel I marked the passage where they are cleaning out their mother’s house:

We burst into tears. Twelve cycles of chemotherapy, three surgeries, three course of radiation, two clinical trials, three remissions, four reoccurrences, over nine grueling years– yet the permanence of Ma’s absence still came as a shock.

I’ve said this before, I say it a lot, but I think there’s this fundamental human safeguard that you never really completely come to terms with someone’s death. Or maybe you come to terms with their death, but, even if you don’t believe in heaven and you’ll see them again on the other side etc., there’s this fundamental rebellion in your mind against the idea that someone who was her and present and alive can be gone.

I also really identified with the older sister, Miranda. She’s just finished taking care of her mother, and now her sister’s mental health is taking a tailspin. And there’s no map with mental health. There’s someone close to me who suffers from sever mental health issues and it is so hard to remember that you can’t make this person “better.” It’s so hard not to be angry with them for their irrational behavior. And it is so stressful to feel like, but I handed this problem over to the ‘grown ups,’ you have a therapist, a psychologist, a social worker — how is it that no one really knows what to do to make this “better”?

I loved the younger sister as well, although I identified with her less. But her love of language was fascinating to me:

Later I learned there’s a Spanish word for this: querencia. It refers to that place in the ring where a bull feels strongest, safest, where it returns again and again to renew its strength. It’s the place we’re most comfortable, where we know who we are- where we feel our most authentic selves.

There’s a word for this in Portuguese: saudade. It’s not exactly nostalgia, there’s more of a longing in it, for a feeling or way of life that may be impossible to recapture- that may or may not have even existed in the first place.  ‘An indolent dreaming wistfulness’ is how I’ve seen one writer describe it. Now that’s a great word.

There is a word for this, a beautiful word that unfurls from the tonge: velleity. The weakest form of volition. A mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it. This has never been [Lucia’s] way.

I haven’t said much about the plot, so I’ll say it’s really about these things. About trying to find querencia. About feeling saudade. It’s not really about velleity — because these women are fierce. They wake up every day and try.  They are both immigrants (although the younger sister was born in America, her mother flew from China to America while pregnant with her). And I think that is also key to the story (most of the characters are first generation immigrants): “immigrants are the strongest, that we leave our homes behind and rebuild. Everywhere we go, we rebuild.” 

Definitely recommend. Might even say that, despite the sadness, you could take this book on vacation and not be like, OH GOD I AM SO BUMMED OUT RIGHT NOW.

Currently reading: The Book of Joan (it is weird!)