Damnit, Helen Hoang. You lulled me in with the first two books, only to gut punch me with this one. It got pretty real in The Bride Test, as evidenced by my review of that one, but this one was more feels than romance. I guess it makes sense, considering she mentions in the post-script that it was part memoir. I only wish I had read that prior to reading the book.
Having dealt with my share of burnout (pick your flavor, autistic or ADHD, or both), I sympathized so much with Anna’s struggles. Come college, I flamed out about as spectacularly as Anna does here, only getting by “with a little help from my friends,” as the song goes. But “getting by” is being kind to myself, since I never stopped feeling like an imposter, just sort of faking my way through it all, doing little more than the bare minimum because it was all I had in me. Then, once the crutch that was my social support system was yanked out from under me, I face-planted and barely managed to crawl my way to that damned diploma.
Like Anna, it was my undiagnosed autism (and ADHD) that was unknowingly bringing all of this about. I was faking it, in a sense, faking being like everybody else. Faking being the model student. Etc. And, like her, it wasn’t until I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t that I could finally process and heal it all.
Moreover, like her, I also didn’t come across this information until I’d already hit rock bottom, and was hesitant to accept it, much like her. It took seeing that there were others like me, that it wasn’t all Rain Man and Sheldon Cooper to put it together, just like with her. It’s not easy to re-frame your entire memory and existence. Especially not when you meet forms of resistance, like Anna does with her sister. For me, it’s been people telling me I’m playing it up, that I wasn’t like this before, or at least wasn’t this “bad.” Or that I’m trying to use it as an excuse, a way to take away blame.
So her sister’s words really cut me deep. They weren’t quite the same – she was outright denying her disorder – yet they were still too close for comfort. Coming to terms with your “new” identity is difficult enough when it’s only your own brain that you have to contend with; when others meet you with resistance too, it’s hell.
However, like with Khai in the previous book, seeing Anna work through these things gave me hope that I could too. It won’t be an easy or quick process, but it can happen eventually if I put my mind to it. That’s not what I expected to get out of this book. I’ll take it, though!