“People are complicated puzzles, always trying to piece together a complete picture, but sometimes we get it wrong and sometimes we’re left unfinished. Sometimes that’s for the best. Some pieces can’t be forced into a puzzle, or at least they shouldn’t be, because they won’t make sense.“
Oh so many feelings I have about History Is All You Left Me.
I had wanted to read this book practically since before it came out, when it first popped up on Goodreads (which was in, uh, December 2016). I waited for my library to get it, since they had the author’s first book, but they never got it, and I was really apprehensive about buying it because people on my Goodreads feed were giving it mostly 2 or 3 stars. Even if I really like a book’s premise, I still think it’s important to be choosy about which books one spends money on…because it can always go either way. When I found the paperback for a decent price about a month ago, I figured it was time to give it a shot.
History Is All You Left Me is told throughout two different periods of time, the present (“Today”) and the past (“History”). In the past, Griffin begins dating his best friend Theo, who he has known since he was young. In the present, Griffin is grieving Theo, who has died in a drowning accident after moving away to California for school where he began dating Jackson, who Griffin is now meeting and connecting with. We soon learn that there is a complex web of relationships at play here, as we are introduced to Jackson and the third member of their friendship group, Wade. Theo was the group’s anchor and they all find themselves confused and helpless without him – Griffin is especially torn between his dislike for Jackson and the feeling that he can relate to him most of all. Griffin also suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and we see his compulsions develop throughout the different periods of time. As a result, the story is sad almost immediately because not only are you reading an adorably cute saga of two boys falling in love for the first time, but you also know that they break up at one point and then he moves away, starts dating someone else and then dies, so y’know, it’s a little depressing. For the first 100 pages, it felt like my heart was being torn from my chest with every chapter but I couldn’t stop reading (thank you for that, Adam Silvera). The author manages to rip your heart out without seeming like he ever tries to. It’s in the little ways he reveals that past relationships are not quite over, not really. It’s in the inexplicable sadness of moving on. It’s in all the things the characters don’t say. It’s in the pretending you’re fine when you’re not; you’re really not.
I do have story details to nitpick, but I must commend a list of things first. For starters, History Is All You Left Me is the perfect LGBT book for people who are sick of gay books that are horror stories of homophobia and difficult coming-out tales. Griffin’s parents are literally the most supportive parents I’ve ever seen; the fact that their son is dating a boy is literally not even a thought or an afterthought. They treat him no different than if he was dating a girl. Especially his father. I cannot get enough of how much his father cares about Griffin and his well-being, without any toxic masculinity thrown in there like most father-son relationships in YA books (and pretty much everything, basically). There’s even a scene where Griffin and Theo run into his dad while buying condoms and any father in real-life would have been so uncomfortable – not only because there son is buying condoms, but buying condoms to use with his boyfriend (even the most of accepting fathers would have been uncomfortable, trust me) – but his dad treated it like any other awkward situation, said something supportive, and everyone soldiered through. If anything, this book is not a coming-out story. It’s a story of first love and loss among four boys. However, I must point out that History Is All You Left Me is so accepting of being gay that it almost feels…not gay, at times. For example, Griffin, Theo and their friend Wade all use language like “dude” and “bro” with each other, even after Griffin and Theo start dating, which I find just a *little* hard to believe. I get that we shouldn’t stereotype, but I do not know any gay guys who use words like bro and dude with each other, unless it’s sarcasm or mimicry. I’m sure there are gay guys who could use such language with each other…but I just don’t buy it. Also, I would’ve loved to have seen the gay characters watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with each other instead of talking about superhero movies. Just saying. That would have made my gay soul a little happier. But at the same time, it’s full of supportive parents and friends; positive representation of gay AND bisexual boys, so that’s a positive…but that part still rubs me a bit the wrong way.
Aside from nitpicking smaller details, my main issue with History Is All You Left Me is that Griffin becomes a bit melodramatic towards the end and brings most of his issues on himself through his destructive choices. Also, the book is pretty liberal when it comes to the guys having sex, which was nice to see at first since it was without shame and with protection (you also can’t really enforce heteronormative taboos about premarital sex on two guys, either), but by the end, it felt like all the gay characters were just banging each other like characters on a soap opera. After some thought, I have chosen to see this as the author showing gay characters having sex relentlessly just like straight characters do, because how many narratives have we suffered through with straight characters banging everything with a pulse, like on a soap opera? Too many. So I’m okay with that. But Griffin was just so unreasonable by the end – spoiler alert: he’s the one who broke up with Theo when he was moving away, to make it easier on them both, but still felt like he was tied to Theo as “endgame” or some eye-roll worthy bullshit like that. They still spoke regularly after Theo left, even after they had broken up, and Griffin was hurt when he heard Theo referring to him as only a friend. He was even more hurt when he started dating Jackson, which I get, but it got out of hand. He used his grief to do stupid things, all because of his first love. And I get it. Losing your first love, especially when you’re gay, before the age of 20 is some serious shit. But Griffin, darling, knock it off. Stuff like this is never easy, but we all have to learn how to move on…and he does in his own unique way.
As a whole, History Is All You Left Me is still a compelling narrative about gay characters grappling with first love and loss, and despite being heart-wrenchingly depressing for awhile there, it was still a smart and emotional read. It was even sadder because there was no judgment; no homophobia, no struggling-to-comes-to-terms-with-who-I-am depression. It is a tale of falling in love for the first time, and then having to learn how to move on when it all goes wrong. Griffin’s OCD was also not exaggerated or just thrown in there for a little something extra – it was pretty well written. If you like LGBT books, I recommend. I definitely understand why some didn’t like it and could only rate it 2 or 3 stars, but I still think it’s worth the read. 4/5 stars.