Thanks to partners NetGalley and Macmillan USA for the digital ARC of Amber McBride’s We Are All So Good at Smiling. The book will be published on Tuesday, January 10!
Amber McBride’s We Are All So Good at Smiling is a sort of allegorical novel in verse that draws from the author’s own experiences with clinical depression. She begins her book with a note to the reader, cautioning about its potential triggers, which I advise all readers to consider.
The book is about Whimsy, who has been struggling with clinical depression since she was young, when her older sister—her idol—disappeared. She has been in and out of hospitals and programs since that time, working through her sense that things in her world just are not right. She’s always been a collector of fairy tales, a passion that began with her grandmother, and she often uses them both to understand the world around her and to escape, even briefly.
Her situation changes when Faerry joins her program, sharing his own story, which they soon realize holds many parallels and connections to hers.
As Whimsy and Faerry get to know each other—his family moves into her neighborhood, and he enrolls at her high school—their mutual understanding begins to make a difference for each. But as they start to uncover the truths that have been hidden from them, they realize that the battle that lies ahead may be more perilous than anything they’ve been through.
The key part of the novel takes place in the forest at the end of their neighborhood, which Whimsy has always avoided, fearful of its secrets. When Faerry is lost in the forest, however, Whimsy becomes determined to find him, to save him, and to confront the fears that have plagued her.
As in her debut, Me (Moth) (a book that I absolutely loved), McBride’s verse is gorgeous and evocative, and I appreciate her vulnerability in sharing her own experiences, which I have no doubt will be valuable for so many readers. While We Are All So Good at Smiling certainly addresses important issues, it did not quite live up to my expectations: I liked the idea of the allegory more than its execution.
Still, We Are All So Good at Smiling is a compelling book dealing with a topic of vital importance to so many people—particularly teenagers. It is powerful both in Whimsy’s own story, in the ways that her relationship with Faerry helps her, and in its consideration of how the teenagers’ families deal with their mental health. I love the consideration of the ways that stories can help both to understand the world and to offer the tools that people need to make a change or confront a difficult truth. I look forward to following McBride’s career.
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I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.