Even after their breakup, Griffin was determined that Theo would be his endgame; they couldn’t be together just, but they’d both acknowledged that they really wanted to be. Now, all the hopes he had for the future are moot, as Theo is dead, leaving Griffin with only one person who fully understands his grief: Jackson, Theo’s new boyfriend from university.
I really, really wanted to love this book, but although I did end up enjoying it, I also found that it was something of a let-down. Griffin was a very difficult protagonist to like, especially in the early stages of the book, as every time he spoke to anyone about Theo, his internal monologue seemed to turn into a grief-off of sorts, as if he felt like the validity of his own grief was actively threatened by anyone else having similar feelings. He pushes away Theo’s best friend Wade (though there are reasons for this that eventually become evident), and viciously derides Jackson, even though he barely knows him. And his feelings towards Jackson are not unrealistic, but when Jackson is the only one of the two boys who seems to be making an effort to be civil (and is also far more likeable than Griffin), it’s hard to hear him being so unfairly attacked.
And Theo is another character who it’s very difficult to care about. We’re mainly exposed to him through snapshots of his relationship with Griffin, which take up every other chapter of the book (appropriately titled “History”), but everything we learn about him is from either Griffin or Jackson, both of whom clearly have their rose-tinted glassed on at all times, so he never really comes across as real. Near the end, we finally see a few of Theo’s flaws, but this actually made me like him less… the real Theo was kind of a jerk.
Given all this, it might not surprise you that halfway through the book, I was almost ready to give up on it, but I’m glad I didn’t, as it actually got a lot better as it went on. True, I liked Theo less and less, but I appreciated the added dimensions to his character. Griffin also improved as he got to know Jackson, and I felt that the relationship that grew out of their shared grief was the real heart of the novel. The History chapters that occurred after Theo and Griffin’s breakup went in an unexpected direction, too, which I enjoyed – and the truth about Griffin’s avoidance of Wade was, for me, what finally pushed this book from a “meh” to a “good” in terms of rating (Wade was the best character in the book, and I just wish he’d been in more of it).
I also liked Silvera’s portrayal of Griffin’s OCD (though I am not qualified to comment on its accuracy); I’ve read a couple of books recently with characters with OCD, and it always seems to be treated as just some endearing character quirk – and although History Is All You Left Me does do the same to an extent, it also called itself out for it, which I appreciated.
Final verdict: I didn’t dislike the book, but found it difficult to connect with, at least until near the end, and my disappointment was no doubt enhanced by my expectation that it would be fantastic (I definitely let myself fall victim to the hype this time). I’m beginning to think that YA contemporaries are just not for me any more, but I hope that I’m wrong about that.