Published by: Balzer + Bray
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.
At first glance, My Heart and Other Black Holes seems easily summarized: a romance between two teens who make a suicide pact, but this novel is more than the sum of its parts and its premise. It's a heartfelt exploration of what it means to be an outsider and of clinical depression.
Both Roman and Aysel have back stories that are terribly sad but made real through their deep emotional pain. Aysel speaks frequently about her "black slug," the depression that sucks away so much of her emotion ("FrozenRobot of all people should know that there is nothing beautiful or endearing or glamorous about sadness. Sadness is only ugly, and anyone who thinks otherwise doesn't get it. I think what he means to say is that he and I are ugly in the same way and there's something familiar, comfortable, about that. Comfortable is different from beautiful." (~77%).). The best part, for me, of this novel is the voice. Aysel's voice is snarky and real. She's a messy character to be sure, a teen who spends her time at work browsing for a suicide partner; a teen who feels out of place with her mother and stepfamily after her father commits a crime that, with his Turkish heritage and their small town, ensures his (and her) notoriety and thus isn't always kind, but her imperfections make her feel incredibly real. She's more than her depression. She's quiet and smart and loves physics (she expresses a lot of her emotional pain through physics concepts and related metaphors, which I thought was cool and well done) but is too afraid to speak out about anything; when she does speak, she sees only her father's shame reflected back onto her. And yet she's funny, some of her observations so perfect and still so much like a teenager. It was easy to picture her character, and cheer for her character growth, because of her wonderful voice. And because we see Roman through her eyes, he too is a very well realized character and one with whom it's easy to sympathize because his pain is also made real.
The harder part to judge about this novel is the romance. Because this book is so heavily focused on depression, moving past depression and the suicidality of depression, and features suicide partners, it's hard for me to root for the romance. It's mired in moral quagmires. Aysel and Roman constantly question whether the other is going to "flake out" on their plan; while this, and other reasons, give a good backing for why they are hanging out together outside of their suicide plan, it also means that I was constantly reminded of their plan. They get along well, but I would very much hesitate to root for the two of them to be together when they're struggling to get past their depression; how terrible if one had another depressive episode and caused their partner to regress as well! Fortunately, I think that this book recognized the shaky moral ground and standing of the romance. Aysel at some point specifically talks about how she once thought they would save each other; but then she realized that they had to save themselves (if I'm not mistaken). Although the romance is heavily featured, the novel prioritizes Aysel's and Roman's character development and growth, their well-being, over the state of their relationship. I call it a romance because of a certain plot event, but in truth they feel more like friends who have seen each other through some very tough times. Poignant, interesting, discussable: do you think that a situation like this could end well? Read the book and let me know your thoughts :).
P.S. - Huzzah for diversity! Not just a portrayal of mental health: Aysel has a Turkish heritage, and is a girl who loves physics. Extra points for promoting a love of science in a girl MC!