Wednesday, 4 October 2017

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland: Book Review

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.


*Trigger warnings for anxiety, depression, and cutting*

“Anxiety felt like a grapnel anchor had been pickaxed into your back, one prong in each lung, one through the heart, one through the spine, the weight curving your posture forward, dragging you down to the murky depths of the sea floor. The good news was that you kind of got used to it after a while. Got used to the gasping, brink-of-heart-attack feeling that followed you everywhere. All you had to do was grab one of the prongs that stuck out from the bottom of your sternum, give it a little shake, and say, “Listen, asshole. We’re not dying. We have shit to do.”

It feels like a century since I had last found something which really resonated with all the internal struggles and pain that I've had to suffer throughout my whole life. A Semi-Definitive List Of Worst Nightmares encaptures the whole package deal that comes with the curse of anxiety and depression. I found myself relating to almost every second sentence and had originally sat down to read at least half of the novel two days before it was due for release - I feel terrible that I was not able to complete it sooner and have one heck of a review waiting for everyone to read and hear my thoughts on. However I'm glad I was able to spend the month returning every now and then to get a fix of a beautifully truthful and empowering novel. One thing that just made me instantly love this book as much as the actual content was the fact that Esther is a natural red-head with an array of freckles on her face, and Jonah basically resembles Finn from Star Wars: The Force Awakens almost exactly and I am so glad I was given that visual because that is exactly how I pictured him for the rest of the novel!

This shot that I posted to my Instagram story could not be more accurate!

Esther Solar is introduced to us vividly in the first few pages along with a few vital pieces of information:

  1. Her family is cursed with developing unhealthy phobias which prevent them from being anything but a normal human being. 
  2. She dresses in a spontaneous costume every day - on this particular day/night she is dressed as Red Riding Hood. 
  3. Her mother, Rosemary, is afraid of bad luck, her father, Peter, is an agoraphobe and has lived in the basement for six years since his sudden confinement, and her brother, Eugene, is afraid of the darkness and and anything related to it. 
  4. She is super gullible and too kind for her own good. 
  5. She protested Dumbledore's death as a child for a week before the movie came out, even though the books were written years prior to the movie release. (She is a sweet little cinnamon roll!) 
  6. We basically need to keep reading to find out why the hell Esther would somehow eventually fall in love with Jonah Smallwood - the guy who robs her of her grandmother's bracelet, iPhone, Fruit Roll-Up, library card, copy of The Godfather, her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares, AND her diginity, all within the time-frame of four minutes in a bus stop at night. (Trust me when I say that you will enjoy the hell out of these two characters together!)

If I am going to give an accurate review of this book, I'll have to point out how important the topics discussed in this novel are and why many of the creative analogies such as The Man Who Was Death, the curse on the family, and Esther's interpretation on the way love works backwards, all have deeper meanings that we might realise. I have taken photos of particular quotes that I resonated with personally and also felt like they needed a bit of recognition.

The hard truth with mental illnesses and disabilities, but it doesn't mean that everyone does. I just felt like this was a 'in the moment' quote that I could relate to a lot. People have given up on me before, but then there are people who haven't given up on me. Chad is a great example of someone who has stayed with me for four years, even though I have ADHD, anxiety/panic disorder, and an unknown joint disease that gives me pain on a daily basis and has rendered my legs useless multiple times before. I am forever grateful for him ❤

Jonah is the love interest/semi-hero that every other novel needs (and every person that needs a little push towards confidence and self love); the type of person that would take your deepest fears and throw them at you lovingly, all the while knowing very well (sorta) that you won't actually die if you face them. He is the one who gives Esther a reason to live - in saying that, she is not suicidal, she just doesn't live a very interesting life before she bands up with Jonah to face her fears every Sunday of the week until she reaches number fifty and finds out what she's really afraid of. I have to say that this book has truly inspired me to live my life no matter the fears that I face when I start to think about the real world. I honestly felt like I was living an adventure that was exhilarating and eye-opening at the same time. I was reminded that mental illness can almost feel like a curse and death can feel like a person that is just hanging around in the shadows waiting for you to say the okay, yet at the same time you can also tell them to just f**k off.

The caption on the photo is the only one that is needed.

If this book has taught me anything, it is to know that anxiety and depression will always be a tough fight, but it is possible to come out the other side eventually. There is no instant cure but it can be managed and it is important to remember that there are many other people who suffer from the same things, if not many other mental illnesses, as well. We're not alone in the world - we can choose to either let the pain subdue us or we can choose to rage a war against the darkness and make life something worth living, even if it means facing a few fears to find the light.

I've decided to present my own list of fears so that I might inspire someone else to do the same and show that we are not all invincible but we are all human (I do believe some of us are magical shapeshifting unicorns but that is besides the point).

Things that terrify me on a daily basis:

  1. Loosing someone I love.
  2. Heights.
  3. Blood and anything to do with surgery or cut open skin. (UGH!)
  4. Crossing busy roads. (I used to have panic attacks every morning walking to school)
  5.  Depression creeping back up on me when I least expect it.
  6. Panic attacks.
  7. Wasps and hornets. (I have more faith that bees aren't a****les)
  8. Not knowing what is wrong with me. (Currently going through this crisis)
  9. I might die before I get the chance to accomplish my dream of becoming a best selling author and inspire others with my stories of struggle.
  10. Living in a city surrounded by volcanoes that are due to erupt with 1.3 million people who may or may not care.
  11. The possibility that my current life is really just a very long dream and I will wake up from a coma to a life I never wanted.
  12. Loosing both my voice and my hearing. (Both are my sources of music which keep my depression at bay. See no. 5*)
  13. New Zealand is a tiny country/island that could sink just like Hawai'ki did centuries ago. (I'm a big believer of Maori legends. Don't judge me!)
  14. Donald Trump ruling the most powerful country in the world.
  15. Racism. (It terrifies me because I've seen people be killed just because they're dark skinned and I have panic attacks thinking about loosing my partner, Chad, my daughter, Zoey, my brother, Devontaye, or anyone that I love just because their skin is darker)
  16. WETAS! THEY ALL DESERVE TO DIE! (For those who don't know, they are a native species to New Zealand and are literally spawns of the devil. They are super hard to kill–I used a whole fly spray can and tried squashing one to no avail–and they make me sick!) I dare you to search the name on Google Images.
One fear I used to have but don't anymore?: I can take a photo with no makeup on and feel confident about it! Even if there is a book in front of my face in this one. Baby steps, guys. Baby steps.

I have given this novel 5 out of 5 stars because I have never read a book in my life that I have related to so much (Twilight doesn't count right now, okay?) and felt like it deserves a place on the modern classics table for future generations to study in school and refer to for inspirational quotes when life feels overwhelming and sometimes like nothing at all. Krystal Sutherland has definitely done everyone a huge service by writing such a beautiful story which will always stay close to our hearts. I will go to the ends of the earth to make sure this book does not become underrated in the bookish community. We need more relatable stories like this (as I've probably stated many times before) because so many people like myself need them when we're at our worst to sit down with and feel like we have a chance to be revived. I sat down a couple of weeks ago when I was drowning in stress and tears, and having Esther and Jonah to comfort my fears by facing their own gave me so much strength that I managed to avoid a panic attack. I ended up having one a few days later anyway but somehow I felt a little more hopeful afterwards when I reminded myself that so many people suffered the same way as me even for the simplest things like being in the presence of frogs, corn fields, or lobsters.

Krystal got all the nostalgic feels perfectly - I love little details like this one!

Thanks to A Semi-Definitive List Of Worst Nightmares, I am super keen to read Krystal's first novel, Our Chemical Hearts and fall in love with her writing all over again. I've always been interested in dipping into the genre of contemporary with my writing, so maybe Krystal's books will be the reason I run head first into action - no fear, no pain, just love, passion, and novels of inspiration.

Check out my Spotify playlist for

✮A Semi-Definitive List Of Worst Nightmares!✮

Thank you Penguin Random House NZ for the review copy!

Like and follow their links here:

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Please contact any one of these helplines if you need help:

• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

Are you suffering with a mental illness such as depression or anxiety? Here are some helpful links from BetterHelp that you can check out and find tips on how to live a happier life:

BetterHelp Advice - Anxiety
BetterHelp Advice - Depression
How To Deal with Depression: Tips, Techniques And Finding the Right Treatment

How Do I Find A Therapist Near Me?

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