Note: This review was originally written on 27 December 2020 right after I finished reading the book! Special thanks to the author for sending me a physical copy and I’m sorry for taking so long to read it but now that I have I’m so glad I finally did!
The Existence of Amy
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amy has a normal life. That is, if you were to go by a definition of ‘no immediate 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.
TL;DR: This was a fast and fairly easy read thanks to Riva’s no frills writing, and it paints a very realistic and often relatable picture of what it’s like to live with debilitating mental illness. Your heart will break for Amy but you will also root for her success. There’s not exactly a ‘happy ever after’ but it is very much a hopeful one. I would recommend this to everyone but especially to those looking for a book about mental health!
So, I wanted to firstly thank the author for sending me a physical copy of this book earlier in 2020. I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve only got around to reading this now at the end of the year, but I felt that I had to prepare myself to read it and I definitely wasn’t wrong in that respect. While I wouldn’t necessarily say this book is “heavy”, it deals with mental health issues that, if you have experienced them yourself, could potentially be triggering.
CW/TW: Severe OCD, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts
When I finished reading this my feelings took time to settle because it ended up being quite an emotional read (I cried a million times, I’m an emotional reader what can I say?!). Riva paints a very raw portrayal of someone who lives with debilitating mental health issues and clearly illustrates how it affects every aspect of their life to the point that it doesn’t even feel like living anymore. To everyone, Amy leads a normal life with a good job she’s successful at and great friends. Maybe she comes across as weird or rude at times, but they don’t see anything ‘different’ about how she lives her life. Yet underneath the surface, Amy’s existence wouldn’t even be on the same stratosphere as what she projects to the public—nothing is even remotely ‘okay’.
This is a character driven story and there’s not much of a plot. It’s written in first person perspective so we get a very intimate look at Amy’s life with OCD, severe social anxiety and depression. Riva drew Amy in a very realistic and empathetic light. Even if you don’t know what it’s like to deal with these issues, you can clearly see and feel how hard she battles for control with her brain every single day. There are days when Amy feels hopeful and can get through the motions through sheer will and various coping mechanisms; but there are other days when everything becomes so debilitating that she’s unable to get out of bed or even form sentences. You watch as she feels these episodes creep up and as she desperately fights against being overwhelmed with little or no difference.
Your heart breaks for her as she longs for her “before” life when she actually felt alive, and her slowly diminishing hope that she will even have a life at all if she continues living. I rooted so hard for her to fight and to not give up. As I mentioned, I got pretty emotional reading this book because there were certain parts, especially in relation to Amy’s depression, that resonated so keenly with my own experiences and it was *deep breaths* so freaking real.
I think this is a very important and illuminating story that sheds light on what it’s like to live with mental illness(es). It also shows how easy it is to judge someone based on who you think they are or what you think they’re like based on what you see, and although it may be cliché, it’s true that you never really know what a person may be going through beneath that exterior. The strength it takes for Amy to do what she does every single day while facing the (infuriating) judgement from those around her, especially those who claim to be her friend, is truly incredible and inspiring.
Although a few of her friends play a big role in her story, especially Ed, we don’t learn much about them outside of their relationship to her. I thought this really illustrated well how consuming Amy’s mental illness was. There was a bit of a romance related issue in the story that I wasn’t too keen on and I wish that the relationship didn’t head in that direction… However, I am very glad that the story didn’t end up resorting to the “love cures all” route! *phew*
While it’s certainly not a traditional happy-ever-after ending, it is very much a realistic and hopeful one that shows that while it’s going to take a lot of hard and constant work over a period of time (and likely a very long one), it is very much possible to get better and it is okay to seek help.
Have you read The Existence of Amy or is it on your TBR?