Saturday, April 1, 2023

Don’t Ask If I’m Okay by Jessica Kara


I was initially kind of scared when Jess Kara told me that this book was angsty and sad (I can't remember the exact words she used, sorry!), but DON'T ASK IF I'M OKAY ended up being way more empowering and life-affirming than I was expecting. It's a really heartfelt story about overcoming trauma and grief, and how having a solid support group can help with things like mourning and PTSD.

Gage is a teenage boy who should be college-bound but isn't. He's been suffering from pretty bad depression and panic attacks ever since his cousin and best friend, Hunter, died. Cooking for his loved ones gives structure and meaning to his life but it isn't sustainable. Especially when his emotions get out of control and he ends up losing his temper, sometimes in a violent burst of rage.

Depression and grief looks different from everyone and I appreciate seeing books that show it manifesting as anger or numbness. I also liked how Kara showed Gage second-guessing himself in his friendships and romantic relationships, and how accidental microaggressions committed by his friends and family could take root in his psyche and cause lasting damage. It was devastating how a simple word or comment could make him feel so bad, and just goes to show how you never know what anyone's triggers are or where people are coming from, so it pays to take extra care with what you say to people.

I loved how food played a role in this book, and the descriptions made my mouth water. I also liked how Gage's stepfather played such a positive role in his life. Stepfathers are often portrayed as mean or sinister figures in books, so it was nice to see him be such a role model for Gage, especially since he was ex-military and one of his friends with PTSD sort of ended up showing Gage that you can still be a strong and okay person who is going through some shit. Gage's friends were also lovely and I liked all the nerdy pop-culture references. They felt very natural, the same way that the ones in FURRY FAUX PAW did, but I feel like this was aged up for older teens, whereas FURRY felt a little younger.

I've really been impressed with Jessica Kara's writing! This book in particular felt like a throwback to the old skool angsty YA of the 2000s, like Laurie Halse Anderson, and I think if you enjoyed books like TWISTED or SPEAK, you'll love this.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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