My Review of Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee (A Novel)

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info from goodreads:

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

via GIPHY

My Review

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.

via GIPHY

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.

Anticipated Reading & Recent Book Haul & Thyroid Update Apparently…

Hello there, how are you? Alright here. Little bit of stress and anxiety, little extra I mean because I had to have a blood test to check up on my thyroid levels. This is a new thing for me. Admittedly I feel strange, like I’m airing dirty laundry talking about it here. I’m thinking about family reading it, like wow that’s personal. But guess you can’t be too surprised seeing as I talk about my anxiety right? And yet… What makes me want to share for sure is thinking about Ritu at But I Smile Anyway and the piece she wrote for the site Cysters. Her piece is titled PCOS-er And Proud! She shares her experience living with polycystic ovaries, how she didn’t know as a teen and then struggled as an adult trying to start a family. It’s a really interesting and eye-opening piece, I encourage you to read it. I knew nothing about PCOS, though I’d heard the words I didn’t know what it can be like for women living with this condition. Her story reminds us, it’s good to share. It’s good to be heard.

So I’m saying it here, I have recently been told I have an under-active thyroid. I don’t really have a story to tell just that this was almost relieving. It helped to explain why I felt a little extra depressed, extra tired all day, and have been having more trouble losing weight than what is my usual experience (my weight fluctuates a lot…my diet fluctuates a lot 😉 Lol.) Of course no one wants to hear your body isn’t doing something right on its own, that it’s kind of malfunctioning but answers are nice. I’m in the beginning of dealing with this situation so we’ll see.

Doctor said start Levothyroxine and get your blood checked again in six weeks. Now that was before Covid-19 took over and the call to stay at home was put in place. It didn’t take me long to say, well I’ll just wait this out and get my blood drawn once it’s safe. But, well you know, this big ole virus situation ain’t such a small ordeal and ain’t going away soon. So I’ve been wondering what I should do. The reason they need to draw my blood again, and probably often if this is a thing, is so they can see if my current dosage is working or if I need more. Today I finally called the doctor’s office and asked if I needed to get this test. Triage nurse said yes. We need to know if it’s working. Okay, thanks. (Anxiety said: SHIT!)

Luckily there are walk-in labs for diagnostic matters, I don’t have to go to the actual hospital, but still. With my mask on I went. Got it done. Nervous the whole time wondering if my mask would keep me safe, if the hand sanitizer would keep me safe, if I should do extra things like take my fleece off before I go home (I did but I think that was overkill). But I thought too about all the women in there (didn’t see any guys, sorry). Soldiers for real. Here I am shaking in my boots for the quick in and out visit I’m conducting. Were there sick people here today? They’re in there every day. They’re in there all day. They see us all. They have to watch us nervous, and probably think how do you think I feel? I stood at check in after questioning my relaxed position in the chair in the waiting room, which was like 10 feet from the check in point. I feel really stupid, standing there like the chair would kill me if I sat in it. I apologized. She thanked me for staying standing. That simple, I felt better.

Now I wait. I wait for my thyroid function cascade panel (something to that effect, the whole shebang) and for time to pass and tell me I’m not going to develop Covid-19. I think about my symptoms (thyroid, not Covid cause I don’t have that). I am still having what feels like trouble losing weight but I’m not quite as tired throughout the day as I was. Nor am I as depressed but my irritability, hm, that’s something that’ll fight you (or me and everything in my circle) like an angry badger. The science me is looking forward to the results, see where this thing takes me. Why? Because what if I do need a stronger dose, if my thyroid is still being lazy (that’s probably not the best way to describe it)? Then they might up my dose. Okay you’re waving your hand, come on what’s the point Elpy? What if feeling better is that close to me? Get it now? Cool.

😀 Okay so that’s the important part of my day. (A small, no his voice is loud. Okay a loud voice in my head, that of one of my characters who recently visited the Saloon at The Carrot Ranch, is reminding me I’m still making excuses for not focusing on my book. He thinks I should mention that to you guys.)

The rest of this post is the light, fluffy stuff I want to share: anticipated reading for the rest of April and May and my recent book haul from Book Outlet! I did not open that box for three days by the way, so I feel good about that, and I sanitized my hands after touching it. 😉 The books are on my shelf now and happy to breathe again. The books I plan to read next are from a Book Outlet haul last year (I recently found them after wondering what happened to all those books…) Oh wait, one book is from Book Depository because it’s an Australian publication and at the time that was the only place I could get it. Let’s get started. I’ll post the pictures then list them with links to Goodreads.

What I plan to read after I finish Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee (really interesting contemporary fiction novel about a character with mental illness) and in the order I show them:

  • Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina – 2019 – YA Fantasy, mystery – It was thanks to Books and Tea with Brittany (her blog has since been deleted) that I discovered this book written by an Australian Aborigine and has won awards. Yeah! I am now learning that this book was given a different title (?) in the U.S.: The Things She’s Seen. Apparently because they didn’t understand it? That frustrates me…ugh. But this is up next, it’s short and I’m excited.
  • Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor – 2015 – Sci-fi, fantasy – This is the author of Binti (OMG why haven’t I finished that series!) and The Book of Phoenix, both of which I’ve read and enjoyed, especially Binti. Naturally, you find an author you like you follow them and go back for their other stuff. 😉
  • Akata Witch (Akata Witch, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor – 2011 – YA Fantasy, children’s middle grade – As I said above, I’m a fan of this author. I saw she wrote this interesting sounding book (nominated for Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel 2012) and I was curious. Curious in part too to see if might be a cool rec for my niece.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1) by V.E. Schwab – 2016 – YA Fantasy – I learnt of this author from her interview on the Writing Excuses Podcast (awesome podcast btw). I’ve also heard her mentioned it seems everywhere else. She is a prolific writer. V.E. Schwab is her pseudonym for her adult work, while Veronica Schwab is for her young adult and middle grade work. This will be the first of her work I’ve finally read. I picked up the box set from Book Outlet last year, so I hope I like it as much as other people because I have the trilogy!
  • Stay tuned as I read them in this order!
And these are the books I picked up recently (for cheap!).

So there you have it, some personal updates (I promise to keep you updated) and some bookish updates. Now let’s see if I can get some of MY BOOK work done and hear from my characters. Wouldn’t that be nice, if I could talk about my own freaking book? Yes, yes, be patient little one. 😉

Let me know if you’ve read any of these, plan to or are interested (please don’t leave any spoilers). If you add something to your TBR thanks to me I’d really appreciate it if you give me a shout out for it. 😀 Oh and if you want to partake in some kind of buddy read, let me know in the comments. I hope to start Catching Teller Crow this weekend or next week. Alright, onward!