I have previously read Adam Silvera’s two other novels, More Happy Than Not and They Both Die at the End, and found them both to be quite enjoyable and touching to read. So obviously there is some skill there, but I found that with this new novel, I just couldn’t get into it as much as I would have liked.
History is All You Left Me follows a teenager named Griffin as he mourns the death of his ex-boyfriend and best friend, Theo. The two had been friends for a long time along with their other friend in their little squad of 3, Wade, but eventually Theo and Griffin started dating. After Theo left for college, the two grew apart, Theo found someone new in a boy named Jackson, and the three former best friends found themselves crumbling within this new structure. The story now focuses on Griffin and his grieving process, showing both present day where Griffin learns all about who Theo became with his new boyfriend, but also switching back to show the history and past parts of their relationship that Griffin holds on to.
There are some great subjects and explorations in this novel regarding grief, how we can become selfish and angry and not want to accept that other people lost someone just like we did. There is also a major aspect of Griffin’s personality tied up in some serious compulsions that limit his life in some ways, and we see how his grief can cause this to spiral, or to cause him to make decisions that hurt both himself and others.
But here’s the thing: at one point in the novel, some of Jackson’s friends are recounting meeting Theo for the first time, claiming that it was like nothing but inside jokes between the two of them that they couldn’t penetrate into or become a part of. As I read this part, I realized that that was exactly how I was feeling reading the entire novel. There are also a ton of pop-culture references thrown in there, and while I understood all of them, it felt so corny and again, like these things meant more to the characters in a way that I couldn’t fully grasp. It’s all just moments that are close to Griffin but never feel like we are entirely let into, especially since a lot of the narration occurs as conversations between Griffin and the idea of Theo in his mind after Theo’s death. Griffin teases things that happened only to half-explain them, or not explain them until far later at a point where it doesn’t feel as poignant. I also had trouble connecting with Griffin as a character, due to a lot of his decisions and understanding of situations not feeling natural or making sense to me. I do chalk a lot of this up to his grief making him view things differently or being so self-focused in a way that he may not otherwise be, but I found it to be a bit much in the end, and lacking in ways to make everything connect or feel like real resolutions or changes. I don’t know, it just wasn’t working for me.
History is All You Left Me had a lot of potential in its subject matter focused on grief, which is always a tricky thing to handle, to be fair. And as I mentioned previously, I have enjoyed Adam Silvera’s other two novels to date. But this time, because of what felt like impenetrable characters and relationships, the whole thing fell a lot shorter than my expectations.