*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Title: Dear Universe
Author: Florence Gonsalves
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 12, 2020
Synopsis from Goodreads:
It’s senior year, and Chamomile Myles has whiplash from traveling between her two universes: school (the relentless countdown to prom, torturous college applications, and the mindless march toward an uncertain future) and home, where she wrestles a slow, bitter battle with her father’s terminal illness. Enter Brendan, a man-bun- and tutu-wearing hospital volunteer with a penchant for absurdity, who strides boldly between her worlds—and helps her open up a new road between them.
Graduation, prom, summertime — these are the things that Cham Myles is determined to remain focused on at all costs. No real life. No responsibilities. But, is that really feasible? There is so much going on in Cham’s life, that processing it all, and compartmentalizing each component of her life into neat, separate boxes, is really starting to take it’s toll. It’s the final semester of high school. Her dad is sick, but no one, not even her closest friends, really knows about that. Applying for college seems like an insurmountable feat. As her friends start to make plans for the future, Cham feels more and more left out. She’s becoming more desperate to hold on to the simple and fun things in life, but although these milestones are fun, her priorities begin to drift further and further away from the priorities of those she cares about. Cham avoids the truth of her life, keeping those around her closed off. That is, until Brendan. Brendan is a unique individual, not afraid of wearing tutus to school and wholeheartedly behind himself, always. Brendan becomes a lifeline for Cham as she drowns in the reality of her situation. His honesty helps her to work towards acknowledging and accepting her own truth.
Dear Universe is an accurate portrayal of the ups and downs of high school life, especially in that final semester. The stress and the pressure are constant and completely unavoidable. There is so much push to apply to post-secondary school and to decide what life if going to look like in the future. So many people are certain about where they’ll go and what they’ll end up doing. Cham’s story explores a different scenario: one where life is turning upside down at the most crucial of moments in teenage-hood. Her life is full of fear, anger, loss, and confusion. She struggles and fails to meet expectations and she forces herself to build walls and shut down her feelings in favour of feigned apathy and indifference. It’s her way of coping.
I found the second half of the book to be far more interesting and engaging than the first half, especially as Cham does truly begin to confront her feelings. There’s a more complex exploration of barriers being torn down and the struggles of vulnerability that really make Cham much more human. If I had once suggestion for improving this book, it would be to cut most of the first half and to really dive into this tangible and gritty reality of living life’s biggest moments in the face of dealing with personal crisis. This is where friendships and relationships bloom–in the face of honesty–and true character development unfolds. I would have loved to see this taken as step further to find growth among Cham’s family as they struggle with her father’s failing health and her struggle to make it through her final months of school. This was a relatable story as a whole, but there is the potential for it to go even further.
Overall, 3.5 stars out of 5. I really enjoyed this book. It was well written, easy to read, and is relatable for many readers.