The Existence of Amy the debut novel from Lana Grace Riva.
It is “a fictional story that depicts the reality of mental illness behind the perception of normality”.
A frank, often uncomfortable depiction of life with OCD and depression, Riva exposes the internal struggle of living with intrusive, destructive thoughts that affect the behaviours of those who experience these mental illnesses.
Amy has a normal life. That is, if you were to go by a definition of ‘no obvious indicators of peculiarity’, and you didn’t know her very well. She has good friends, a good job, a nice enough home. This normality, however, is precariously plastered on top of a different life. A life that is Amy’s real life. The only one her brain will let her lead.
Note: I was sent a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
CAUTION – THIS REVIEW INCLUDES SPOILERS.
The grammar throughout the book is so bad. There are so many missing commas, I lost count. I know it might not seem important in the grand scheme of things, but it does affect the reading experience. There are also lots of very clumsy sentences – some that don’t make sense at all. I get the impression that the author did not get this book edited before publishing, which I think was a mistake.
The plot starts slowly. I really struggled to get through the first few chapters. However, from around chapter six, the plot starts to pick up the pace. The raw illustration of how “normal” tasks or events are affected by these invisible illnesses is quite powerful.
I enjoyed the little inserts of humour. It made the plot feel more relatable and exposed the juxtaposition of still having brief moments of fun in between the crushing weight of mental illness.
There are several occasions where important plot information is just dropped unnaturally into a scene, such as Ed being married. It feels a bit forced. I also found it odd that Ben was introduced as a love interest when we had heard so little about him. Again it felt a bit forced. Additionally, the fact that both Ed and Ben were so engrossed with Amy when she was so distant and giving back so little reads as quite contrived.
I didn’t like the use of italics for the conversations between Amy and her OCD. The book is already narrated by Amy, so it felt unnecessary. I could understand if just the OCD’s words were in italics, but it was both Amy and the OCD, which made it difficult to read.
As I wrote in my notes whilst reading: “Ed is married?? Wtf??? NO, DON’T MAKE ED A CHEATING D*CKH**D” This comes up completely out the blue and I understand this is a plot device to change how we feel about Ed but it’s just so disappointing and feels like it was added in retroactively so we move away from wishing for Ed/Amy and move onto the much more tentative Amy/Ben relationship.
The phrase “not offensively drunk” is used four times in different chapters. It feels like an odd phrase to repeat so many times because it doesn’t affect the plot at all, but it stands out.
Okay, it sounds like I am being really negative about the book even though I gave it four stars, but here’s what did it for me: Nathan.
Nathan saving the day was neatly foreshadowed in his early conversation with Amy about his own depression but also wasn’t too predictable because of how the friendship had been described by Amy throughout the book. I expected Ed or Ben to swoop in and “rescue” Amy, but I was really pleased that the author chose this way instead. It really displayed the power of lived experience; Nathan could understand what Amy was going through in ways even Ed couldn’t. He’s firm yet gentle in his support and provides a perfect example of how to reach in when someone you care about is struggling. I also LOVE that Nathan is not turned into a love interest and the author focuses on the power of true friendship. The way he walks alongside Amy in her recovery is truly beautiful.
A fantastic, satisfying ending to the book. If I’m totally honest, the last third of the book more than makes up for the complaints I listed above, but if those had been fixed, this would have been a five-star review.
A must-read for a brutally honest look into the reality of living with mental illness, with a glimmer of hope at the end.
You can find out more about Lana Grace Riva and her books over on her website, lanagraceriva.com.