YA Diversity Book Club: My Heart and Other Black Holes Discussion

Diversity Book Club
Welcome to the seventh edition of the YA Diversity Book Club, a monthly feature we created in partnership with three other book bloggers: Kiki at Gone Pecan, Lucy at The Reading Date, and Kristan at We Heart YA. This month we read debut author Jasmine Warga’s poignant contemporary novel “My Heart and Other Black Holes,” about a Aysel, a brilliant young woman who is so lonely and in so much pain she decides to join a suicide support group to find a partner to end it all. But as she gets to know Roman, her suicide pact partner, she starts to question whether they would be better off going through with it or not.

This month we’re once again hosting the book club chat, and we hope that you’ll be prompted to put the book on your immediate TBR list; we promise you won’t regret it — just remember to keep some Kleenex close by for the all the emotional parts.

Many thanks to Harper Teen for sending us all review copies of the book!

 

My Heart and Other Black Holes
HarperCollins, 320 pages | Feb. 10, 2015 | Goodreads | Amazon ~ IndieBound

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.


Reading Date:  Do we all have this book fresh in our mind? I know it’s been a little while since we read it.
Teen Lit Rocks: It has been a while for me as well. I read it in December.
We Heart YA: Oh wow! I can still remember it pretty well, I think. Prob because I haven’t really read anything since.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, but it would have been wrong for her to spare us the horror, I think. To make it seem tamer than it was.
Reading Date: Let’s get started and she can jump in if that’s ok. First impressions of the book?I thought it was tense and heartfelt, and one of my favorite of the suicide issue books
Teen Lit Rocks: Even though I’ve read many suicide-themed books, I found it to be original, powerful, and really thought-provoking. That sounded better in my head!
Reading Date: It’s true though!
Teen Lit Rocks: Well, several of the others are after the fact (the effects of suicide).
We Heart YA: The only other suicide themed book that I’ve read (to my knowledge) is THE PACT by Jodi Picoult, which actually also deals with “suicide partners,” but MY HEART is completely different from that book.I’m not sure exactly what I expected from MY HEART, but it surprised me, in several good ways.Like, it wasn’t a downer — but it wasn’t falsely humorous either.
Gone Pecan: Books dealing with death are usually a complete hit or miss for me.  I don’t sort of like them, I’m committed or not.  For Black Holes I was committed.  Aysel’s feelings were very relatable to memories I have of being a teenager.
Teen Lit Rocks: I appreciated that it was unpredictable in many ways.
We Heart YA: Yes I was never quite sure what the ending would be. And I really liked that everything wasn’t wrapped up in a tidy bow.
Reading Date: Yeah, very serious subject matter- but there are definitely light moments to balance it out. I was very nervous and tense about how it would all shake out throughout though.
We Heart YA: What’s interesting to me is that when I think of MY HEART, I get really strong visual / mood memories from reading it.Almost a synesthesia response — like the book IS a gray sky to me. (And I loved Roman’s use of that metaphor in regards to Aysel.) One of my favorite aspects was how I could tell that Aysel’s perception of things was not necessarily the truth, even though it was *her* truth. Her depression had warped her perspective.
Teen Lit Rocks: Kristan I was about to write that — I loved that she’s an unreliable narrator because of her depression.

We Heart YA: Yes! It’s not the kind of unreliable narration that we typically think of, but it’s really well done.

Reading Date:  Totally, interesting!
Teen Lit Rocks: And you can see it in the way she interacts with her mom and siblings.
We Heart YA: And the kids from school. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I just knew that they wouldn’t blame her for her father’s actions. (Or at least not all of them would.) So then I started to wonder, did they really isolate her, or did she isolate herself?
Teen Lit Rocks: And in a way, that’s how all of adolescence is — right? Teens can be as self absorbed as toddlers. Not selfish, just unable to see outside of themselves sometimes.
Gone Pecan: This was a tough part for me to read.  I could see Aysel doing it to herself, pulling away from everyone because its easier-something I’m all too familiar with.  This was a harsh truth for me and felt very real.
We Heart YA: Exactly. And Even if they’re not depressed, I think a person can sometimes create a self-fulfilling prophecy when they anticipate other people’s behavior instead of just taking a chance and putting themselves out there.
Reading Date: That was interesting that Aysel took on so much of the guilt for her father’s actions. Maybe since they were so close, and she felt so separate from her mother’s new family.
Teen Lit Rocks: Right, and it’s wasn’t even that new! I was horrified that she had felt that way for so long, and that she thought her mother resented her for being an overt reminder of the dad.
We Heart YA: Yeah, it’s amazing — and a shame — how long people can suffer under misconceptions if they are afraid to open the dialogue and clear the air.
Reading Date: Definitely. It felt like such a weight was lifted when Aysel started to trust and let people in more. The author did a great job with painting her isolation and despair so much that it was hard to read the book at times.
We Heart YA: I think the author also did a really good job slowly lifting the veil from Aysel’s perspective letting us see the little bits of light pricking through her dark fog, and offering her hope for a better future.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, it was oppressive but there were tiny moments of hope that peeked throughYes, exactly lol!
We Heart YA: It wasn’t like Aysel met Roman and boom, she’s happy and healthy. Her transformation was so organic.And it was so interesting to contrast that with Roman, who resisted more.
Teen Lit Rocks: He was more (rightfully) damaged than she was.
We Heart YA: I liked that they bonded over their sadness but weren’t identical. They each had unique problems, unique personalities, and unique responses.
Reading Date: Yes totally. Roman’s journey also rang true, and I’m glad it wasn’t sunshine and roses overnight.

Teen Lit Rocks: If she couldn’t compartmentalize what her father did, how could he not obsess over what happened on his watch?But it was beautiful to see how by seeing what was worth living for in his life, she could start to see some things in her own that were worth sticking around to experience.

Reading Date: I can’t even imagine. I believe he was in therapy and taking medication, correct?

We Heart YA: I don’t recall medication… but I think there was mention of therapy (with his parents) shortly after the traumatic incident in his life. (My memory of these specifics might be fuzzy.)
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, I thought they went to family therapy. And his parents were on top of trying to deal with his depression/inability to engage with others.

Reading Date: With Aysel, she hid her depression from her family so I know she wasn’t receiving any kind of help vs. Roman’s very clued-in family.

We Heart YA: Oh yeah, interesting contrast! I didn’t think too much about that, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I appreciate getting to see both. I just remember really feeling for both mothers.

Teen Lit Rocks: Aysel’s blended family issues hit home with me, because I grew up with a stepfather and two step-siblings; blended families can be really tough to navigate even without a dad in prison.

Reading Date: Her blended family seemed to further isolate her and make her feel like she wouldn’t be missed.

Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, because she was the only carryover from her mom’s first marriage. So it was easy for her to think of her life as that old “Which one of these things doesn’t belong?”

Reading Date: Yes, sadly. I guess we should also touch on the diversity in the book- Aysel’s Turkish heritage.

Gone Pecan: I don’t feel like they showed enough of her family heritage to make me feel like I truly learned something about her culture.  There was a bit about the food and a few family friends but being as she was biased herself against her father it almost felt like she didn’t want to share her heritage with the reader even in thought.

Teen Lit Rocks: I loved how she explained how to pronounce her name and how she kept having to deal with well meaning folks who assumed she was Latina.

We Heart YA: Hah! I love that we’re just now coming to the diverse element. I mean that! It’s a diverse book that isn’t ABOUT the diversity.

Reading Date: I will always remember “rhymes with gazelle.”

We Heart YA: Me too, Lucy!Two embarrassing confessions, btw: 1. When I first met Jasmine Warga (the author) I thought she was Latina. 2. When we first talked about her book, I pronounced Aysel’s name wrong.

Reading Date: I struggled with the pronunciation in my head until she added the rhyme. It’s a tricky one. And yes I really liked that the main character just happened to be Turkish and her culture doesn’t really drive the story.

Teen Lit Rocks:  Yes, but it’s “there” even when it’s not being discussed, because of her name and the way she sees herself versus her “white” half siblings

We Heart YA: *nods*It’s inherent and integrated into her character. It’s not “throwaway” but it’s not the focal point either.I would love that kind of portrayal to be a common part of the diversity toolbox, so to speak.

Reading Date: Yes definitely.

Teen Lit Rocks:  Right, which is really the way it is when you’re a minority. You don’t think about your “otherness” all the time, but it’s there in small ways nonetheless.

Teen Lit Rocks:  You asked about the chapter headings — they definitely added to the tension I felt about the possibilities.

We Heart YA: Yeah, a “ticking clock” always adds tension, and I definitely felt that building as we neared their suicide date.

Reading Date: I had just come off of reading another book with this subject matter, and was so on edge about the outcome of this one!

Gone Pecan: I felt like I should have been more on edge as we got closer but I just felt sad.  I related to Aysel’s feelings so much that I just wanted her to wake up!

We Heart YA: Haha yeah I don’t know how you could read so many in a row!

Reading Date: I do really love that we are talking about mental illness more. I thought that this book was really well done. Anything else you’d like to talk about about this one?

We Heart YA: I liked how the small details lent authenticity. The marketing job, the school scenes (which felt more realistic to me than most YA novels), the way Roman liked jalapeños, and of course, the way Aysel kept linking her life back to physics principles and music.The small details bring things to life, you know?

Teen Lit Rocks:  Absolutely. Like the things he remembered about his little sister, or how she missed tiny little routines with her dad. This was among my favorites of our selections.

Reading Date: Yes, I feel like a lot of books get high school wrong, but this one did feel more authentic. Looking forward to more from this author.

Interested in the book? Make sure to read our Author Q&A with Jasmine Warga at Gone Pecan, The Reading Date’s feature “I Will Follow You into the Dark: Mental Illness in YA,” and We Heart YA’s post about the Book’s Amazing Launch Party. Stay tuned in March when we read and discuss Elizabeth Wein’s book BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN. Read more about it | Pre-order it.

This post fulfills our monthly participation in Reading Wishes & Rather Be Reading’s Dive Into Diversity Challenge.

Dive Into Diversity Challenge
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