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A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

Review

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

Krystal Sutherland, author of OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS, sets her readers on an adventure in her latest novel, A SEMI-DEFINITIVE LIST OF WORST NIGHTMARES.

Esther Solar's family is cursed. Due to an unlucky relationship with the Grim Reaper himself, Esther's grandfather inadvertently passed down this sentence: each member of their family is doomed to live with one great fear, only for it to become their demise. However, Esther is determined to beat Death at his own game. Living by her lists, Esther's life is focused around a few goals:

1. Keeping her family afloat.

2. Making enough money to get out of her confining town.

3. Avoiding things and places related to her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares, any of which could potentially be the end of her.

"Funny and thought-provoking...A SEMI-DEFINITIVE LIST OF WORST NIGHTMARES beautifully captures the essence of fear, describing with unflinching honesty the challenges that many people quietly suffer. "

By avoiding anything that could become her one great fear, Esther's control feels almost complete --- until her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares is pickpocketed by none other than Jonah Smallwood, her childhood crush. Inexplicably to Esther, Jonah convinces her to challenge Death and break the curse by confronting her fears. As Esther faces down her fears one by one, she begins to realize her biggest fear ---- and it's not something she expected. With Jonah's help, Esther begins to discover after her controlled life that, "everything you want is on the other side of fear."

Funny and thought-provoking yet written with a sense of grief, A SEMI-DEFINITIVE LIST OF WORST NIGHTMARES beautifully captures the essence of fear, describing with unflinching honesty the challenges that many people quietly suffer. Sutherland introduces characters whose individual insecurities and motivations compel the reader not only to keep reading but also to empathize. The good-luck blessings of Esther's mother's, her twin's constant presence despite his depression and her father's medical help prove that Esther's family, no matter how broken, can re-learn to depend on each other in their moments of deepest need.

There is also Jonah, who draws Esther in with his bravery and optimistic hope. As they become closer, Jonah reveals to her his own fears and insecurities, making him less of the idealized perfect hero of Esther's past and more of the caring, honestly good-hearted person he is.

Though Esther's fears are narrated more than shown in the beginning, Sutherland develops Esther's story in a beautiful and detailed exploration of the complexity of mental illness, eventually exposing mental illness not as a thing of fantasy but as a human trait that can be overcome. This becomes most apparent though Esther's twin brother Eugene, who struggles from depression. While Esther sees her family's fears as a mystical curse, Eugene relates his fear of the dark to his depression. His down-to-earth attitude contrasts with Esther's fantastical imagination, and it is he who understands the best way to overcome Esther's "curse.”

With vivid imagery, Sutherland describes the trials Esther and her friends face as they search out crumbling haunted buildings, jump off cliffs and even battle with geese in an effort to find Death and break the curse of fear that Esther and her family have let control their lives. A SEMI-DEFINITIVE LIST OF WORST NIGHTMARES is a must-read for those who enjoy mystery, romance, fantasy and adventure, as well as for everyone who is looking for a light in their darkness.

Reviewed by Lauren C., Teen Board Member on September 18, 2017

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
by Krystal Sutherland