Disclosure: I received a finished copy of A Semi Definitive List of Worst Nightmares from Pansing Books, a regional distributor, in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.A Semi Definitive List of Worst Nightmaresby Krystal Sutherland• contains 349 pages• published by Hot Key Books, Bonnier Zaffreon September 5, 2017• classified as Contemporary, Young Adult• obtained through Pansing Books• read as paperback• shelve on Goodreads
From the author of Our Chemical Hearts comes the hilarious, reality-bending tale of two outsiders facing their greatest fears about life and love—one debilitating phobia at a time.
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.
A Well-Crafted Book
A Semi Definitive List of Worst Nightmares was yet another book from Krystal Sutherland that made me cry. Something about the way she writes and crafts her characters make them very relatable. The emotions were so palpable, it was impossible not to feel something for the characters. I think that’s what made this book particularly great. There was nuance in the way mental health was dealt with several times over.
From Esther facing her phobias, her twin’s anxiety over the dark, to her father’s agoraphobia and her mother’s gambling addiction, A Semi Definitive List of Worst Nightmares could get overwhelming. That did make it difficult to read the book, and I had to put it down for a while. In spite of that, or maybe even because of, I liked reading about Esther’s family. Not once did any of them become their mental illnesses. They were humans first, and Sutherland portrayed them in their complexity.
The relationship between the twins was intense and filled with so much love. They depended on one another and they prized their sibling relationship. Esther’s best friend, Hephzibah, had her own life to deal with but showed up whenever Esther needed her. Jonah was annoying at first, but with each layer that came off, he proved to be a good person.
True to Life
With an entire family faced with various mental illnesses, a best friend with selective mutism, and an old classmate from a broken home, did their problems seem excessive to the point of being unrealistic? In my opinion, no. It’s precisely that — that their worlds came crashing down — which made A Semi Definitive List of Worst Nightmares so relatable. At the same time, the strands of hope and even humour woven in to the plot made me consider the positive sides of life as well.
Death, the Character
As for Death, he quite possible was a man, who could be quite elusive. The way he floated in and out of A Semi Definitive List of Worst Nightmares made me read the book as a work of magical realism. You never really knew if Death was a real man or the figment of the Solars’s imaginations. That left quite a bit of the book open to interpretation, which I thought was very fitting for A Semi Definitive List of Worst Nightmares.