I had a lot of thoughts about THIS IS MY BRAIN IN LOVE, mostly positive, but there were a couple of things I took issue with. Mostly, though, the book was a win. Set in New York, with a heroine named Jocelyn who is Tawainese and a hero named Will who is half Nigerian and half Italian, it is the story of two teens who meet each other as employer and employee, and then end up becoming so much more in a quest to save Joceyln's family restaurant from going belly up while also confronting their chronic mental health problems admid all the stress.
This is an #ownvoices review in the sense that I have experienced both anxiety and depression at various points in my life. I thought Jocelyn's depression was portrayed very well, because a common misconception (and one that she herself believes at first) is that depression = sad. People think to themselves, "Well, I'm not sad, so how can I have depression?" But they may also have negative thought patterns, exhaustion, and lack of interest in day to day activities. The study of mental health disorders is sometimes called "Abnormal Psychology" in schools, and I really dislike that term because for people experiencing these disorders, "abnormal" is their normal, which is why it can sometimes be hard to self-diagnose; you don't feel anything out of the ordinary. This is who you are.
Will's anxiety was also nicely portrayed. I found it interesting since people said he seemed so calm while inside he described himself as simmering. I've often had people tell me that I seem "composed" and this always amuses me, because I will fret about literally anything FOREVER. It makes me a diligent worker, because like Will, I am a perfectionist who strives to get things exactly right. The portrayal of his panic attacks, while extreme, also felt very realistic, as did his fear of speaking on the phone and being put in other situations where he lacked control of the situation. Also-- speaking of Will, what a DARLING. Where was Will when I was a teen? Teen me would have loved Will.
I thought the restaurant portions were excellent. I'm a sucker for descriptions of food and when not in self-isolation mode, I love to eat out. We get some truly amazing descriptions of dumpling-making and cucumber salad, and the descriptions of Will's family's curries and soups sounded amazing, as well. "We have to save this failing place of historical importance" is a common thread in after school specials and can easily come across as hokey, but I felt like THIS IS MY BRAIN IN LOVE does a really good job explaining why small businesses are such an integral part in the community, and why having them thrive means a healthy economy.
The secondary cast of characters were also amazing. Priya was lovely; she's Jocelyn's friend. I wish we'd gotten to see more of Will's friends but they seemed cool. I liked both sets of parents, but Joceleyn's took me longer to warm up to because of her father's biases. I did warm up to him though. It was clear he wanted the best for his daughter, even if he wasn't always sure how to express that or feel comfortable enough to show it. I loved Jocelyn's Amah and Will's older sister, Grace. I also liked how there were no translations provided for the Mandarin because I'm learning Mandarin right now and understood some of the phrases, and it made me feel like I was being let in on a fun secret.
The thing I didn't like happens towards the end and was bad enough that I'm deducting a star rating. If you've read ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS, a similar scene happens, where someone has an episode with their mental health disorder and lashes out cruelly in a way that they know will hurt the most. I understand that real people do this in real life all the time, and it was the impetus for Jocelyn to finally seek outside help, but it was still ugly to read. It made me hate her a little, I'm not going to lie. There is grovelling and her friends call her on her behavior, as they should, but after that scene, I could never really go back to liking her as much as I did before that.
I appreciate authors who aren't afraid to write unlikable protagonists, because it does make them feel more realistic, but just like real people, sometimes when people do something bad enough, our feelings for them shift-- and not in a good way. That happened to me with Jocelyn. I still loved Will and felt like the way he handled the aftermath of the situation went as best as could be expected... but after that scene, I kind of felt like he deserved better, too. I guess if there's a moral here, it's that it's the difficult experiences that really test our relationship with a person and determine whether we're all in.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars