This Is What It Feels Like is a story about recovery.
I have read many stories about mentally ill main characters and characters going through trauma, but I know very few stories that talk about what happens afterward. What happens when you’re not an addict anymore, what happens when you finally get out of a toxic situation.
Not only this is a story about recovery, it’s a story about recovery in which the romance, while present, is not the reason the main characters get better.
This Is What It Feels Like follows three girls, once friends and in a band together, as they reconnect through music. This aspect reminded me a lot of another 2018 contemporary release, The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk, another book about music and friendship, but with a heavier focus on grief. (If you like one of these two, I think you’ll also like the other).
Anyway, this book is told through four PoVs:
🎵 Dia, a teenage mother. The boy she loved, and also the father of her child, died unexpectedly in an accident. I loved her PoV – it’s the first time I read about a teen mother – and what stood out to me about it was the portrayal of Dia’s trauma. Sometimes anxiety is almost like magical thinking, and Dia is aware of it, and yet she can’t stop thinking that every person she loves will die like her almost-boyfriend did.
🎵 Jules, a black lesbian who is falling for her fat, mermaid-haired coworker. Jules’ PoV was my favorite because of the very cute f/f romance. I also loved Jules’ character development: her relationship with her ex-girlfriend was toxic, they just really weren’t compatible, but Jules doesn’t know how a healthy relationship looks like. She realizes that she shouldn’t hold herself back just because of a bad experience, but at the same time she doesn’t see how anyone could ever want to be with her in the first place, and so maybe she shouldn’t even try. I loved that she got to be in a happy, healthy f/f relationship.
🎵 Hanna, former addict who has been sober for more than a year. Her alcoholism was what drove her and her friends apart, and now she feels like she doesn’t really have the right to be happy. Also, her parents do not trust her anymore, even though she is trying to be better. Hanna’s PoV was the most difficult for me to read, because it deals with how, when you’re mentally ill, you feel like you can’t be proud of your achievements, because they’re something that isn’t an effort for anyone else and you shouldn’t have struggled with them at all. Also, so much self-loathing. Very well-written, but not an easy read.
🎵 The fourth PoV is Elliot’s. I won’t say who he is because spoilers, but I thought his PoV was completely unnecessary and this is one of the main reasons I won’t be giving this book a full five stars.
Apart from Elliot’s PoV, another thing I didn’t love was the music aspect: I didn’t really care about the band or the competition the girls got into, I was there for the character arcs, the recovery themes and the f/f romance. I wasn’t completely invested, but I loved most of this book and I really recommend it.
I kind of wish my bar wasn’t so low, but it was great to read a book that dealt with addiction, teen pregnancy and teens having sex without sounding like a cautionary tale. These girls aren’t walking messages, they’re people with hopes and dreams and hobbies. It’s also a very sex-positive story, there’s an f/f sex scenes near the end.
My rating: ★★★★½