Esther Solar’s family is . . . unusual. Her father hasn’t left the basement in six years. Her brother is terrified of darkness.
Esther isn’t afraid of anything – because she avoids pretty much everything. Elevators are off limits, as are open spaces, crowds, family pets, birds, needles, haircuts, dolls and mirrors.
But when Esther is pickpocketed by her cocky old classmate Jonah Walker, Esther and Jonah become surprising friends. Jonah sets a challenge: every week they must work their way through the world’s fifty most common phobias. Skydiving, horse riding, beekeeping, public speaking, reptilehouses – they plan to do it all.
Soon their weekly foray into fear becomes the only thing that keeps them tethered to reality, and to each other. But each is keeping a secret from the other, a secret that threatens to rip them apart.
P.19 (a description of the three friends Hephzibah, Eugene and Esther): “A ghost who couldn’t speak, a boy who hated the dark and a girl who dressed as someone else everywhere she went.”
Who the hell tapes all the light switches and lamps in a house in the on-position, or dresses like she’s on her way to a costume party every single day? What did I start reading? Quirky novels and me, we don’t always (usually) gel well and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be such a novel but the characters were too endearing from the start to let them go and so this novel is the exception on the rule. There’s also just something about knowing someone’s vulnerability, being allowed to read about their fears, it’s just impossible not to feel for them.
Even when it’s all part of a made-up world – too unreal because there’s just too many fears and quirkiness to truly believe it – I’m sure there are people who are afraid of the dark and who see black cats as an omen. The author magnified this only a thousand times. At first sight it only seems like a crazy, bizarre and funny read with Esther tackling her bucket list of fears, but it’s definitely not all it is.
There’s also a little bit of magical realism in the story that was pulled off really well and it kept me wondering throughout the novel if Death really was a person or not. Esther thinks to know for sure as she sees how The Curse spoken to her grandfather by Death himself during the war holds her entire family in a grip. He told them they would all die from their biggest fear or phobia and so far it all came true. She doesn’t want to become like them though, so she’s trying to lure Death to her by confronting her fears instead of avoiding them like she’s done for so many years. I loved following her challenges, they start easy and are funny enough but become more serious further down the list. There are even a few I’d pass up on myself.
It doesn’t take long though to understand there are many layers beneath the bizarre spectacle, some obvious and others harder to see through. The novel has some deep messages about mental health issues, depression, loss, but also personal growth, being yourself and seeking help when you need it. The funny quirky characters help to keep it light enough so it has exactly the right amount of balance. And Jonah was the perfect person to bring out the best in Esther, he’s so creative and attentive and I wish and hope we can all have a Jonah in our lives.
Overall a very enjoyable debut novel that makes me wonder what else she has in store. I can recommend this novel to bookworms who read or are interested in reading Turtles All The Way Down.
I received a free copy from this novel through a giveaway. This is my honest opinion.