Two Chinese-American sisters—Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. Lucia impetuously plows ahead, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth.
Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again—but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans—but what does it take to break them?
Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its heart, an immigrant story, and a young woman’s quest to find fulfillment and a life unconstrained by her illness. But it’s also an unforgettable, gut-wrenching story of the sacrifices we make to truly love someone—and when loyalty to one’s self must prevail over all.
Paperback, 368 pages – Published January 16th 2018 by Pamela Dorman Books
Goodreads Choice Nominee for fiction and for Debut Author (2018)
Contemporary fiction, mental illness, mention of sexual acts
My rating: 5 stars
I know there are a number of other books I’ve read and said I’d review but never have. But I’ve decided I’m not going to put this off only to add it to the queue of reviews I owe you. 😉
Contemporary fiction is not my usual choice of reading. It’s still not, but I easily make exceptions for certain topics. In this case, it’s the matter of mental illness, as one of the main characters, the younger sister has a serious mental illness. I don’t recall how I first discovered this book but I got a paperback copy from Book Outlet over a year ago. In 2019 I said I’d read it, in 2020 I finally did and I’m so glad. I’m not sure what I expected but I got more than what I could have. Let’s just say I almost cried, almost because I resisted the urge to but it was there.
On the cover author Celeste Ng (author of Little Sparks Everywhere) calls this story, “A tender but unflinching portrayal of the bond between two sisters.” This story is that and so much more. My take home message was there’s always more than one side to a story and you don’t know just what another person is going through internally.
I was curious during and after reading this about Mira T. Lee’s experience with mental illness. She writes intense scenes of the younger sister experiencing psychosis. The younger sister in this story does not receive a pinpointed diagnosis rather they say it might be schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, maybe both. As I do not have experience with either, I had to wonder. So when I finished it last night I did a tiny bit of research about her.
On her website she provides links to interviews she’s done. On the site Bloom, Terry Hong interviewed Mira T. Lee in January 2018. Please follow THIS LINK to read the whole Q&A interview. When asked why she chose a taboo subject and how she researched Mira said this:
Mental illness is a subject matter that’s extremely close to my heart, since I’ve seen members of my own family struggle with it. Schizophrenia, in particular, is still one of the most misunderstood and stigmatized illnesses out there, and I’d rarely seen a well-rounded portrayal of it in literature – particularly one that addresses how it affects family members, in addition to the individual with the illness. I wanted to explore the conflicts that this illness can cause, and the ways it can wreak havoc on families… I pulled a lot from my own family experiences with mental illness, but I also read a lot of memoirs, as well as online blogs, particularly firsthand accounts of psychosis. And I spoke with medical professionals about the more technical aspects. I’d also attended a lot of family support groups, so I had a strong sense of the issues and frustrations experienced by loved ones.”bloom-site.com/2018/01/30/everything-here-is-beautiful-q-a-with-mira-t-lee/
This story is told from multiple perspectives, the older sister, the younger sister, boyfriend, husband. It’s really interesting to read about this subject and the characters’ experiences from their various points of view. It’s such an intense story particularly because the author succeeded in showing how the different people are affected. It’s true that your heart will break for them all even as they might frustrate you at times.
Mira T. Lee’s cast of characters include two Chinese-American sisters, a one-armed Russian Jew, a Swiss man, and an Ecuadorian man, among others. But she said in the above interview that:
At some point early on, I did wonder if I should make my characters non-Asian (i.e. white), but that didn’t feel true to me. These multicultural worlds are what I’ve known in my own life, so it made sense that it should be reflected in my writing.bloom-site.com/2018/01/30/everything-here-is-beautiful-q-a-with-mira-t-lee/
It’s fair to say, IMHO, that she also succeeded in writing a well-rounded portrayal. Parts of this story take place in NewYork, Switzerland, and Ecuador (among a few others). Here are some excerpts from pages I dog-eared.
In Crote Six, they said I “suffer” from schizoaffective disorder. That’s like the sampler plate of diagnoses, Best of Everything.
But I don’t want to suffer. I want to live.Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee – from the perspective of Lucia
When we reach the playground, Nipa confides to me that her doctor thinks she’s suffering from postpartum depression.
I’m floored. First, she is telling me. Second, she’s wearing makeup and her hair is clean, and her Natey is perfectly cherubic with his rolls of chin fat and cream bun cheeks.
“It’s weird,” she says. “In all these years, no one’s ever told me I suffered from cancer. I’m a fighter. A survivor, you know.”Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee – from the perspective of Lucia, listening to her friend Nipa
I’m flustered, confused. For a second my brain feels like it’s full of holes. She waits expectantly. But what would it be, I wonder, to conduct one’s life as a Chinese life instead of just a life? I speak Chinese, I cook Chinese food, practice tai-chi on occasion and drink oolong tea, but to flaunt one’s authenticity seems terribly gauche. I’m human first, aren’t I? Aren’t we all?Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee – from the perspective of Lucia, in a job interview
There are many more pages that I dog-eared because of what the scenes mean to me, how she wrote them and turned the story so the reader could see from a different angle, of course, among other things. But I think this is long enough, hopefully I’ve made my case as to why you might want to check this out and learn more about the human experience. Also, those excerpts could spoil the story for you and I don’t want to do that.
If you’ve already read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Or if you’re going to read this, let me know, then come back and let’s talk about it. In my humble opinion, it’s a great book, full of intense emotions and scenes, some sexual bits and talk here and there, talk of pregnancy matters (not a spoiler), moments of psychosis, and matters of immigration.
Imbolo Mbue, author of the PEN/Faulkner Award-winning Behold the Dreamers is quoted on the back fo the book saying, “A compassionate debut…an aching yet hopeful story.” Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Translation, is also quoted calling it “A heart-wrenching novel. Powerful and unforgettable.”
Yes, it is all those things.
To read more reviews of mine CLICK HERE. If you like the style of this review over the others, you can let me know that too. I don’t usually include excerpts. Maybe this was a product of reading contemporary and being so emotionally impacted. Maybe I’ll do this more often when I really like a book.
Okay I’m off. Stay safe and well. WAIT, one more thing, this book comes at just the right time for me. Being under a stay-at-home order and reading about all that is happening has taught me a lot. I’ve learned that it’s really easy to be selfish (that’s not a new lesson, but one that needs re-learning from time to time) and that we have to be more compassionate. This isn’t about any one of us, this is about ALL OF US. We have to be careful and safe for each other, not just ourselves. You might think you or your town isn’t affected, really, but the truth is, your community is. Can your small town handle an outbreak if it happened? What about immune-suppressed folks who can’t leave the house? Don’t you think they want to go back to life too? But they really can’t until they’re more sure than not the coast is clear. If you’re upset about how your life has been impacted, remember this isn’t all about you or any one person or family.
If you or someone you know is mentally ill or might be struggling with their mental health please visit NAMI – The National Alliance on Mental Illness. This is one of the great resources Mira T. Lee uses.