Imagine Us Happy is an emotional account of a breakup, of all those moments when things fracture, when it all shifts even without you feeling it.
Stella lives with depression, and her goals for junior year are pretty much limited to surviving her classes, staying out of her parents’ constant fights and staving off unwanted feelings enough to hang out with her friends Lin and Katie.
Until Kevin. A quiet, wry senior who understands Stella and the lows she’s going through like no one else. With him, she feels less lonely, listened to—and hopeful for the first time since ever…
But to keep that feeling, Stella lets her grades go and her friendships slide. And soon she sees just how deep Kevin’s own scars go. Now little arguments are shattering. Major fights are catastrophic. And trying to hold it all together is exhausting Stella past the breaking point. With her life spinning out of control, she’s got to figure out what she truly needs, what’s worth saving—and what to let go.
Imagine Us Happy begins at the ending. At the moment when the tenuous fractures cave in, when the problem becomes un-fixable. As we continue reading, Stella takes us through the moments before. When passion was all you needed. When the list of the things you could ignore was shorter than the things you couldn’t. Yu’s style of writing is captivating to the point where sentences grab and hold onto you. This story is one of love, but it’s also one of struggling with your mental health, and heartbreak.
One of the things that really sets Stella apart in my mind is the ways her depression is deal with in this book. Stella is struggling not only with the aftermath of last year (and everyone walking on eggshells around her), but also with her parent’s fighting, and with the prospect of love. Her depression and the ways it impacts her life are seamlessly woven into her story. The ways they motivate her decisions, sharpen her words, and follow her around. Stella also goes to therapy and these sessions are also described in the book (I don’t know too many books that feature therapy).
Thinking she needs no part of love or social interaction, her year is turned upside down when she meets Kevin. And isn’t that how it goes? I remember when I met my last partner. It was as if the world subtly shifted. The air feels different when they’re around, and there’s an electrifying tingle under your skin.
What I appreciated about Imagine Us Happy is the exploration, and denial, that a relationship should be the relationship that defines you. It’s handled in different ways throughout the book, from her best friend all the way to her parents, but this is a concept that I think teens should read about. I grew up with this candy cutter image in my mind that a relationship would complete me. That if we “loved” each other, we could make anything work.
But now I look back and realize that my entire feelings revolved around codependency. And theirs revolved around taking what they wanted from me.
And what was really happening were two people, who were trapped in each other’s orbits, with one person unable to let go, and another person unwilling.
Part of what makes this point so clear is that Imagine Us Happy is written reflexively. There are chapters, which don’t move sequentially, but which have Stella’s current point of view interspersed. We hear her reflecting on the contents of the chapters and telling us what her opinion is on hindsight.
The entire book is written in such a fascinating way. All of which comes together to illuminate that in the moment, these moments feel fleeting. They feel like they can pass and you never feel the threads tearing. It’s about those moments we didn’t realize it but they cracked. They changed the face of time and those were the last moments.