By Ekta R. Garg
October 11, 2017
Genre: YA fiction
Release date: August 1, 2017
Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars
A teen suffering from generalized anxiety disorder must deal with the condition head on after moving to a new town. She fights for normalcy as she deals with a new school and friends along with her estranged father, and she re-learns the definitions of beauty and acceptance as she also re-learns how to view herself. Author Lauren Miller gives YA readers a touching novel that deals with the realities of today in a refreshing manner in her latest book All Things New.
On the surface 17-year-old Jessa Gray looks like other kids. She’s dating a star athlete, and she keeps up with the latest fashions so that she presents herself as the perfect girlfriend. But Jessa’s hiding a secret: she suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, which manifests itself in panic attacks. She’s tried to explain to her boyfriend what she experiences, but he’s losing his patience. When Jessa sees him with someone else, she knows she doesn’t need to waste her own patience on him anymore.
She doesn’t even have time to absorb the full impact of his infidelity when she gets into a car accident that leaves her with major injuries, including a brain condition called aphantasia that prevents her mind from creating images. Her divorced parents can’t agree on how to handle her recovery, and in an act of desperation Jessa accepts her father’s proposal: to leave sunny L.A. behind and move to Denver with him. It’s what she’s wanted all along, ever since the divorce, but Jessa’s also still pretty angry at her dad. When she needed him most he left the family; now he wants to make amends? The alternative is to stay in Los Angeles with her mother, stepfather, and half twin brothers, though, and they’re too busy being a family on their own to worry about her. So Denver it is.
Her anxiety threatens to crush her in her new school, but then Jessa meets Hannah. Just like that, she has a new friend. It’s been a long time since Jessa’s been able to call anyone a friend, and before long Hannah introduces Jessa to her twin brother, Marshall. The three hit it off as if they’ve known each other for years.
It doesn’t hurt that Marshall is funny and cute and calls Jessa’s bluff on a regular basis about hiding behind her condition without making her feel like some kind of freak. He challenges her to see herself as he and Hannah and her other new friends see her. When another emergency springs up and Jessa’s the only one available to help, she will have to fight through her old definition of normal in order to come out on the other side.
Author Lauren Miller creates characters that her target audience will recognize, because they’ve most likely seen the same types of kids walking the halls at their own schools. With a teenage protagonist, Miller makes mental health issues more accessible and more real. Jessa’s struggles become magnified by her anxiety and the mask she must maintain to hide that anxiety. As the book progresses, however, Jessa becomes bolder, and readers may find themselves emboldened to allow their own masks to slip more often thanks to Jessa’s increasing confidence.
Even in a first-person narrative that can turn biting or sarcastic, Miller manages to create sympathy for Jessa. The supporting characters help maintain that sympathy while managing to generate some for themselves. Hannah, an accomplished pianist, deals with high levels of stress about her career as a musician. Marshall must face the realities of life with a heart defect. The brother and sister provide Jessa with the perfect foils because of their own imperfections, and Jessa learns that even people who don’t have generalized anxiety disorder struggle. That’s a lesson any teen can take to heart: everyone has to fight a battle of some type every single day.
Ultimately Jessa’s story allows for the acceptance of grace for one’s self as well as for others. I recommend readers Binge All Things New by Lauren Miller.