I was allowed to read an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
The new year is here and that means new YA books! This is Not a Love Letter by Kim Purcell came out this week and I am really excited to share this book with my teen patrons! Here’s why:
Note: This review may contain spoilers!
Wow, I wish it didn’t end that way, but I am glad it did. It was hard to read the last few pages because of all the tears. This book had everything from love to mystery to suspense to action to remorse and, finally to hope.
Jessie and Chris are in their senior year of high school and are madly in love. Until an argument over their futures leads Jessie to suggest that they take a break; not to break up, just to spend some time mulling things over. Then one night, Chris disappears. His friend Josh breaks the news to Jessie and the search for Chris is on. From there, we read Jessie’s “journal entries” that catalog the details of the search and her thoughts and feelings, regrets and memories that could give her any kind of clue to find him. Her entries make the narrative a suspenseful, emotional mystery that is easy to get sucked into. Each new revelation or hint brings a feeling of hopefulness that Chris will be waiting on the next page.
Purcell explores the depths of mental illness through Jessie’s eyes to suggest that even the best, most warm and friendly people in the world are battling internal struggles that don’t always surface. Chris’ character is painted in a way that makes you kind of fall in love with him the same way Jessie does. He is kind and generous. He doesn’t believe in violence even though he is the subject of racial injustice. He is a straight A student and a super athlete. He got recruited to play baseball in college. He dreams big. And he pushes Jessie to dream, for what she calls, the first time. How could a wonderful man such as Chris be suffering so greatly and how could Jessie not see it? Love is blind in that way. And mental illness wears many faces.
It is difficult to watch Jessie blame herself for the role in his disappearance. The guilt she puts on herself for all that she didn’t say, for every inaction, for every time his behavior raised her eyebrow but she shrugged it off, for not being able to help him in the way he helped her. It’s incredibly heartbreaking but incredibly real.
After the reality of Chris’ situation becomes clear, Purcell takes the narrative on an upswing when it is hard to imagine there could be one; she ends with hope. Through Jessie’s detailing of the search for Chris, we realize, in retrospect, how much she has grown and how much Chris has helped her to do so. Their relationship inspired her to go to college, to see the world, to believe that she is more, and to choose to live. She is able to build a better relationship with her agoraphobic, pack-rat mother whom she was once embarrassed of. She is able to forgive people she once held intense grudges over. She is able to make friends she never thought she’d have. She chooses to give her life meaning as an ode to the meaning Chris put in her life.