What: Everything Grows by Aimee Herman
Who: Three Rooms Press
When: May 7th 2019
How: A copy of this novel was provided by Three Rooms Press for review via Edelweiss.
Fifteen-year-old Eleanor Fromme just chopped off all of her hair. How else should she cope after hearing that her bully, James, has taken his own life? When Eleanor’s English teacher suggests students write a letter to a person who would never read it to get their feelings out, Eleanor chooses James.
With each letter she writes, Eleanor discovers more about herself, even while trying to make sense of his death. And, with the help of a unique cast of characters, Eleanor not only learns what it means to be inside a body that does not quite match what she feels on the inside, but also comes to terms with her own mother’s mental illness.
Set against a 1993-era backdrop of grunge rock and riot grrrl bands, EVERYTHING GROWS depicts Eleanor’s extraordinary journey to solve the mystery within her and feel complete. Along the way, she loses and gains friends, rebuilds relationships with her family, and develops a system of support to help figure out the language of her queer identity.
Through author Aimee Herman’s exceptional storytelling, EVERYTHING GROWS reveals the value of finding community or creating it when it falls apart, while exploring the importance of forgiveness, acceptance, and learning how to survive on your own terms
I think the first thing anyone needs to know about Everything Grows is that one of the most prevalent themes throughout the novel is suicide. I almost put it down because of this but I decided to give it a go because Everything Grows sounded interesting, and I love supporting queer books by people that aren’t published with the big five.
I am pretty glad that I ended up finishing Everything Grows after our rocky beginning. I think that it’s quite unlike any of the queer stories I’ve read, which is saying a lot because I’ve read literally hundreds of queer books over the years and I think it takes a lot for one to really stand out in terms of queer content. But Everything Grows did that because it followed Eleanor figuring out her sexuality pretty easily, but then having trouble figuring out her gender identity. I feel like oftentimes it’s a character figuring out one or the other, or already having figured out one and on the journey to figuring out the other.
While I enjoyed the queer aspect of Everything Grows there were some things I wasn’t so sure about. The first is the time in which the book is set, which is 1993. 1993 isn’t eons ago, but it is long ago enough that a 15 year old growing up in the 90s would have had a vastly different time than a 15 year old growing up right now. Especially a queer 15 year old. But I don’t think this was executed particularly well. Yes, there were references and events included that happened in that time but while I was reading Everything Grows I thought that it could have been set now and it wouldn’t have been much different. All in all, it kind of felt like a book set now but minus the use of a mobile phone. Which you can do! Not every teenager has access to a mobile phone or a laptop, so there’s no need to rewind time in order for that to be the case.
Because of the time in which it was set, some of the language in Everything Grows was a bit awkward to say the least. Eleanor meets a trans woman, Reigh, at a coffee shop and Reigh introduces herself as a transsexual. I know that there are plenty of people who still use that as a self identifying term, but to see it used multiple times in the book just made me feel uncomfortable because of how the term is viewed now. I tried to remind myself that it was being used because of the time period but then I would question the reason behind the time setting again. Nevertheless Reigh plays a pretty important role in Eleanor realising that she’s probably not cisgender. Eleanor never outright says that and at the end of the book she is still discovering herself but that’s okay. We don’t always need to read about a character completely finding themselves in the short time we’re privy to their lives.
There were a lot of other things covered in Everything Grows, like dealing with the suicide of a classmate who bullied you but had more in common with you than you had ever thought, going to group therapy, dealing with the attempted suicide of a parent, being with someone physically for the first time, reconciling religion and queer identity, losing a friend because of their inability to accept who you are, and finding friends who love you no matter what. Everything Grows never felt like it tackled too much, and I think that’s a testament to the talent of the author. It genuinely felt like reading about a young person’s journey through a few months of one of their most tumultuous years. Because of this I think there are a lot of things readers can gain from Everything Grows.
© 2019, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.
trigger warning suicide themes, suicide of a classmate, reference to past attempted suicide of a parent, abortion (sibling’s), use of ableist language, bullying, homophobia, homophobic language, reference to transphobia, reference to death of a pet, reference to death of a parent (cancer), reference to death of a classmate (head trauma from falling), depictions of blood, reference to child abuse
suicide themes, suicide of a classmate, reference to past attempted suicide of a parent, abortion (sibling’s), use of ableist language, bullying, homophobia, homophobic language, reference to transphobia, reference to death of a pet, reference to death of a parent (cancer), reference to death of a classmate (head trauma from falling), depictions of blood, reference to child abuse