Firstly, I would love to thank NetGalley for sending over a copy of All The Things We Never Said by Yasmin Rahman to give an honest review. I appreciate it so much.
TRIGGER WARNING: MENTAL ILLNESS, SELF-HARM, SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, MENTIONS OF SUICIDE, SEXUAL ABUSE
16-year-old Mehreen Miah's anxiety and depression, or 'Chaos', as she calls it, has taken over her life, to the point where she can't bear it any more. So she joins MementoMori, a website that matches people with partners and allocates them a date and method of death, 'the pact'.
Mehreen is paired with Cara Saunders and Olivia Castleton, two strangers dealing with their own serious issues.
As they secretly meet over the coming days, Mehreen develops a strong bond with Cara and Olivia, the only people who seem to understand what she's going through. But ironically, the thing that brought them together to commit suicide has also created a mutually supportive friendship that makes them realise that, with the right help, life is worth living. It's not long before all three want out of the pact. But in a terrifying twist of fate, the website won't let them stop, and an increasingly sinister game begins, with MementoMori playing the girls off against each other.
A pact is a pact, after all.
In this powerful debut written in three points of view, Yasmin Rahman has created a moving, poignant novel celebrating life. ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SAID is about friendship, strength and survival.
This book does go into detail regarding all of these topics. If any of these are triggering for you, then please do not read unless you feel like you can.
When I first started reading this book, the author's note instantly made me realise that I would end up relating to not just the characters, but the writer as well. It was comforting to realise that there are other Bangladeshi, Muslim women who have experienced both depression and anxiety, and that I wasn't alone in this.
Chapter one's opening genuinely brought a smile to my face. It was the first time I'd seen a book wholeheartedly embrace religion the way All The Things We Never Said does.
Instantly, I knew Mehreen was a character I would be able to relate to. She's a Bangladeshi Muslim, raised and living in the UK, has depression and anxiety. I saw myself in her, even though she's four years younger than I am. Last December, I was diagnosed with moderately severe depression and severe anxiety, so to find a character who is going through the same experiences with the same cultural influences and upbringing, as well as religious, it felt like finally, finally, finally being represented.
There are three perspectives: Mehreen, Cara and Olivia. Each of these girls are vastly different and feel like the main characters, showing their own lives as leading characters, without it feeling overwhelming. Personally, I loved Mehreen's narration the most; this is vastly due to her being the closest to me in experiences. Although, I do feel like Olivia's experiences are relatable for me, too.
Each of the three girls are strong characters, really well-written and were three dimensional. The stories were fleshed out, written in a way that made it seem all the more real. But I did have a few issues with the book, even if I did enjoy it at first.
A little after chapter five, I started getting bored. It's not that the story wasn't interesting--it was. The execution of the MementoMori wasn't as terrifying as it was portrayed to be in the blurb; it could have been better. There's not much else I can say about MementoMori without giving away spoilers--but it was a little disappointing and there were still loose threads regarding the site.
I know that this book was based on the author's own experiences, that was evident from Mehreen's Chaos, Cara's anger and sadness and Olivia's need to put up a seemingly perfect facade. All the emotions echoed through the three viewpoints, lingering in my mind long after I finished the book.
But--before chapter 18 and chapter 19, I was contemplating giving up on it. That's how bored I got. I forced myself to continue and I am glad I did. Around 90% into the book, when Mehreen was speaking to someone about her feelings, it made me want to cry. I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as I read her describing her anxiety and the thoughts in her head. It felt so real, like it was my own personal account of everything I've been feeling since I was a kid.
Her point of view, and parts of Olivia's, were the ones that made me teary-eyed. Olivia's narrative was written in free verse, flowing like poetry, allowing me to completely see how she felt, how small certain things made her think she was. Themes of slut-shaming also appear in the latter half, which could have been better written. None of the characters seemed to say 'you're not a slut because of ____' or give the idea that even if a character chooses to do a certain thing, it doesn't make them a slut, or any other derogatory term.
Despite all of the characters that jumped off the page, easily memorable, the storyline was too 'and they all lived happily ever after' for me. It isn't like that in real life, especially when it comes to mental health and suicidal thoughts or self-harm. Yes, having friends who we can discuss our problems/issues/feelings with helps a ton, but it does not erase it. These feelings will always linger, if it isn't at the forefront of our minds, it will still be there at the back. It doesn't just disappear.
Having discussions regarding these topics is vital, but it felt like it all happened too quickly in All The Things We Never Said. Mehreen's parents seemed like they changed completely, from one thing to a completely different tune with not enough of an explanation, not enough time, especially given the cultural aspect of it.
It also seems like there are way too many jokes, particularly in Cara's point of view. Cara is a wheelchair user, paralysed from waist-down, but there a lot of comments in the book that make light of disabilites, or of mental health (though yeah, I know there are different coping mechanisms for different people). For some, this could be offensive and seen as able-ist, particularly to invisible disabilities.
In spite of these flaws, it was a good read and I did enjoy it, more from chapter 18 onwards. The book was heavy with its themes of depression and suicide, as well slut shaming. It included a lot of Mehreen's religion and culture, making the issues surrounding her mental health seem a lot harder to talk about. That was what made it just that bit more realistic. I loved the diversity in the book, it made me feel represented, so that's why I rate this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars. But I do think that this was an important read, as there is definitely a need for more books that talk about mental health.