Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on September 5th 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Source: My copy
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Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather met Death, her entire family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime—a fear that will eventually lead each and every one of them to their graves. Take Esther’s father, for instance: He’s an agoraphobe who hasn’t left the basement in six years. Then there’s her twin brother, Eugene, whose fear of the dark goes far beyond the things that go bump in the night. And her mother, Rosemary, is absolutely terrified of bad luck.
As for Esther, she’s managed to escape the curse…so far. She doesn’t yet have a great fear because she avoids pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, crowds—anything that might trigger a phobia is off-limits and is meticulously recorded in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.
Esther thinks she has it all figured out, until she’s reunited with an old elementary school classmate—and first crush—Jonah Smallwood. The encounter leaves her stranded at a bus stop and swindled out of her phone, all her cash, a Fruit Roll-Up she’d been saving, and her list—not to mention her dignity. But the theft is also the beginning of an unexpected friendship between the two, one that sends the pair on a journey of self-discovery as they try to break the curse that’s consumed Esther’s family. Together they face their greatest fears, one debilitating phobia at a time, only to discover the one fear they hadn’t counted on: love.
Krystal Sutherland’s second book, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares (longest title ever), is about anxiety, family breakdowns and despair, but it is also about hope, love and lobsters.
If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you’ll know that I don’t often read Contemporary YA – I tend to stick to genre fiction. But when I do read contemp, this is what I like it to be. Quirky, eccentric, with a hint of magic that you’re never quite sure is really there.
Esther Solar lives with her brother, Eugene, who is afraid of what lurks in the dark. Her father hasn’t left the basement for six years, and her mother is a compulsive gambler who is afraid of bad luck. Her family is cursed to have one great fear, which will eventually lead to their demise, thanks to her grandfather meeting a man claiming to be Death himself while serving in the Vietnam war.
One day while at the bus stop, Esther runs into her old friend and classmate Jonah Smallwood, who pickpockets her money and food. Next time she meets him, he asks her about the Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares he stole from her bag. It’s a list of 50 things Esther is potentially afraid of, that she avoids at all costs. Jonah convinces her to face each fear, one each week for the next year.
There is a gorgeous romance between Jonah and Esther, which only burns so long because Esther cannot let herself fall in love in case it all goes wrong. Jonah is dealing with an abusive father, but he is caring and sweet, and he has a cat called Fleayoncé which tickled me every time I read about it.
Krystal Sutherland’s style is almost whimsical, very funny at times and desperately sad at others. A Semi-Definitive List contains a dizzying array of potentially trigger issues, including obsessive behaviour, selective mutism, psychosis, alcohol-fueled child abuse, suicide, gambling addiction, and murder. For most of the book, the light banter and antics of Esther and Jonah contrast well with the darker elements.
Similar to Beautiful Mess (another great #LoveOZYA recent release), this book has a focus on anxieties and insecurities and how they can also affect those around us. It’s so important that such engaging stories are available for young people, or for anyone really, to reinforce the message that it’s okay to not be okay, to seek help from trusted places, that you’re not alone. I hope this book finds its way into school libraries and onto classroom lists. It’s already become one of my favourites for the year.