Wednesday, May 10, 2023

I Miss You, I Hate This, by Sara Saedi

During the Covid Pandemic, I wondered what YA literature set during the period would look like.  This novel, while taking great artistic license, does a great job of exploring some of the key themes, but is ultimately knee-capped by that license.  In order to create a story that fits within a single academic year and has greater relevance to young people, Saedi creates a whole new pandemic called "Adema," with slightly different symptoms.  Adema is more virulent for the young than the old (thus forcing young people to quarantine and the elderly to be largely immune).  That switch allows our teen protagonists to truly be the center of the universe and to explore issues of isolation that during Covid were felt more intensely by older people.  

Parisa and Gabriela are two high school seniors who are best friends despite their differences.  Parisa is from a wealthy Iranian-American family and on her way to becoming valedictorian.  Despite this privilege, she suffers from panic attacks that the pandemic lockdown aggravates.  In contrast, Gabriela's two Moms struggle to make ends meet and when the pandemic destroys their catering business, Gabriela has to put her life on the line and get a job to help the family pay the rent.

Throughout the lockdown period (which for this disease runs during 2022-2023 school year), Parisa and Gabriela stay in touch through texting and work through a variety of issues including Parisa's crush on her sister's boyfriend and Gabriela's search to reunite with her estranged family.  When a sudden terrible mistake destroys their deep friendship, it takes an even deeper tragedy to bring them back together.

It's a fine story that really does take on a lot of familiar pandemic-era issues including the psychological trauma of isolation, the economic impact of the stay-at-home orders and the way "essential workers" were treated, and the uncertainty of the future.  It's therefore really distracting that in this parallel world, Covid never happened and instead this Adema ravages the country in a similar-but-different way.  I understand why Saedi went with a different disease but it's off-putting to have very real and salient recent events being fictionalized.

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