A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather met Death, her entire family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime—a fear that will eventually lead each and every one of them to their graves. Take Esther’s father, for instance: He’s an agoraphobe who hasn’t left the basement in six years. Then there’s her twin brother, Eugene, whose fear of the dark goes far beyond the things that go bump in the night. And her mother, Rosemary, is absolutely terrified of bad luck.
As for Esther, she’s managed to escape the curse…so far. She doesn’t yet have a great fear because she avoids pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, crowds—anything that might trigger a phobia is off-limits and is meticulously recorded in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.
Esther thinks she has it all figured out, until she’s reunited with an old elementary school classmate—and first crush—Jonah Smallwood. The encounter leaves her stranded at a bus stop and swindled out of her phone, all her cash, a Fruit Roll-Up she’d been saving, and her list—not to mention her dignity. But the theft is also the beginning of an unexpected friendship between the two, one that sends the pair on a journey of self-discovery as they try to break the curse that’s consumed Esther’s family. Together they face their greatest fears, one debilitating phobia at a time, only to discover the one fear they hadn’t counted on: love.
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Published: February 13th 2018
Suicide Attempt, Blood, Death, Murder, Mentions of Rape and Suicide, Domestic/Physical Abuse, Self Harm, Alcoholism, Gambling Addiction,
“Point is, you gotta be scared. Fear protects you. You gotta be scared right down to your bones” – he touched his fingertips to her collarbone – :for bravery to mean anything.”
Sooooooooo… I did end up bumping my rating up the acclaimed five star rating. Because my heart wouldn’t settle for anything less. This book broke me.
We start off with our main character Esther getting robbed by Jonah, a boy she knew in elementary school… and one of the items he took includes her list of worst fears… which she needs back asap. What soon follows is the two defeating the list to speak to Death himself and convince him to stop the curse her family has that prophesies your death will be your worst fear.
This book is so misleading. For the majority of the story, it’s lighthearted with banter and shenanigans and a romance blossoming. Yet, as I was reading, I sensed a looming sadness creeping up on my until finally, it happened. And when I say I cried all the water out of my system, I do not lie.
I find it clever, using this aforementioned curse as an allusion to mental health under a magical realism veil. The humanization of Death will always be my favorite thing— he’s just a guy who likes milk and falls in love and retires to the Mediterranean… again, it’s my favorite thing.
But you don’t actually know what’s real and what isn’t until a specific incident happens later on in the story (that was the cause of all of my tears).
“The magic had started to degrade, and Rosemary had slowly but surely become thoroughly, gruesomely human. And there were few things worse in this world than humans.”
And this book does not hold back. It doesn’t sugar-coat mental health and abuse and addiction and the multitude of issues this story handles— and it was handled with so much care. Each character dealt with a form of anxiety; depression and selective mutism and a gambling addiction; I was able to relate so a lot of it and the way Sutherland manages to humanize the characters while not excusing them of their faults struck a chord with me.
“One day,” he said, “everybody’s gonna wake up and realize their parents are human beings, just like them. Sometimes they’re good people, sometimes they’re not.”
Speaking of the characters, they were all amazing. No one had it easy, but all of them had a light to them, something that made me ache for them and want to shelter them. Esther and how much I related to her with her snark and her anxiety and her not wanting to be truly seen for fear of herself being judged. I saw so much of myself in her it hurt.
“Everyone we let into our lives has the power to hurt us. Sometimes they will, and sometimes they won’t, but that’s not a reflection of us, or our strength. Loving someone who hurts you doesn’t make you weak.”
The romance was something that was at the forefront… yet wasn’t at the same time? I liked it a lot—Jonah (who’s black!) had so much to deal with; his toxic home life and his dreams that seemed unreachable, yet he stayed constant and genuine in wanting to help Esther with her list. And Esther who’s struggling with opening herself up to love for fear of letting it hurt her. Them together starting at friendship and slowly evolving into more. My heart was invested.
Eugene was afraid of demons, and monsters, and above all the dark, but he was not afraid of death. That scared her more than anything.”
But my favorite thing in this entire book was Esther and her twin Eugene’s relationship. SOMEONE HOLD ME. I tear up every time I think of them because their closeness, how much love was shared between them and how much they were there for each other. They broke my heart to pieces.
I did cry throughout the entirety of the last 30%. And that ending is very conflicting— it ends on an uplifting, powerful note and I liked it a lot (for Slytherin reasons I cannot devulge into) but there’s this notion being alluded to that it’s a happy for now ending? Which, it’s realistic, but my hearts been through the ringer, so I’m still kind of like how much more will you put me through??? This book just has all of me and won’t let go and my heart is heavy.