This first time I heard about Everything Here Is Beautiful was on the Reading Women podcast, which is one of my favorite book podcasts out there. The hosts Kendra and Autumn recently interviewed the author Mira T. Lee about her debut novel and I knew immediately that this was a book I needed to read. (You can listen to the podcast episode here.)
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Two sisters: Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the vibrant, headstrong, unconventional one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When their mother dies and Lucia starts to hear voices, it’s Miranda who must fight for the help her sister needs — even as Lucia refuses to be defined by any doctor’s diagnosis.
Determined, impetuous, she plows ahead, marrying a big-hearted Israeli only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. She will move with her new family to Ecuador, but the bitter constant remains: she cannot escape her own mental illness. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until inevitably, she crashes to earth. And then Miranda must decide, again, whether or not to step in — but this time, Lucia may not want to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans, but what does it take to break them?
Told from alternating perspectives, Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its core, a heart-wrenching family drama about relationships and tough choices — how much we’re willing to sacrifice for the ones we love, and when it’s time to let go and save ourselves.
“Our mother might’ve said this: that immigrants are the strongest, that we leave our homes behind and rebuild. Everywhere we go, we rebuild.”
― Mira T. Lee,
Wow. This was one of those books that tugged at all my heartstrings. What first interested me about Everything Here Is Beautiful was the relationship and dynamic between the two sisters (I’m a sucker for a family saga). We learn early on in the novel that younger sister Lucia has a mental health issue, and older sister Miranda feels a sense of duty and responsibility to take care of Lucia. As an older sister, this innate motivation from Miranda felt so authentic and relatable to me. I could fully connect with Miranda’s instinct to make sure Lucia received the best care and the right medication, even if it meant she had to be the bad guy in Lucia’s eyes. To me, that’s true love and sacrifice.
Everything Here Is Beautiful captures the complicated and ever-changing relationship between the sisters as they grow older and move apart, but remain connected by Lucia’s health. The story is told from multiple character viewpoints and switches between first and third person. I enjoyed the continuous change from section to section because it allowed the plot to be thoroughly revealed. My favorite sections were from Lucia’s perspective because I was able to genuinely understand her thoughts as she slowly progressed toward more manic episodes. What seemed irrational in her behavior to other characters was suddenly conceivable to the reader.
Lee was incredibly respectful in her portrayal of Lucia and her life with schizoaffective disorder, and I valued her choice to not write from Lucia’s perspective during her most extreme periods of behavior. In her interview with Reading Women podcast, Lee explains that she felt she couldn’t continue writing in Lucia’s voice through the extreme psychosis and therefore chose an omniscient narration during those sections. There was clearly so much care given to writing each character with consideration, and that effort influenced my investment in everyone’s wellbeing.
One thing I appreciated about the book was Lee’s empathetic, yet raw portrayal of mental health from all angles and viewpoints. Mental health does not merely impact individuals with the diagnosis, but those close to them, as well. Because the narrative features several character points of view, the reader is able to experience the personal effect Lucia’s mental health has on those directly linked to her, and how they choose to deal with it. Lee also ties up the ending so beautifully to the point where I definitely reached for a tissue or two.
I highly recommend this exceptionally stunning novel.
“In Crote Six, they said I “suffer” from schizoaffective disorder. That’s like the sampler plate of diagnoses, Best of Everything.
But I don’t want to suffer. I want to live.”
― Mira T. Lee,
Have you read Everything Here Is Beautiful? Share your thoughts in the comments!