Adam Silvera on History Is All You Left Me: 'It feels like fanfiction of my life'
Adam Silvera knows how to break hearts — at least those belonging to readers of his books.
His highly acclaimed first novel, More Happy Than Not, outlined a teen’s attempts to cope with parental loss. His second, History Is All You Left Me, hits even closer to home as it details its protagonist Griffin’s struggle to deal with the death of his best friend and ex-boyfriend Theo, someone he’d always pictured reuniting with. The presence of Theo’s most recent boyfriend, Jackson, complicates matters.
Much like its predecessor, Silvera’s second book draws on details of his own life: The idea for the novel came about when Silvera’s own ex almost drowned.”It just had me think to myself, ‘There’s a person I’m still in love with, and what if he died?’ I spent so much of that year thinking, ‘We’ll get back together.’ That, of course, didn’t happen,” explains Silvera, who’s since moved on and is dating someone new.
“[His] boyfriend and I had a bit of rivalry. We were both imagining futures with this one person. I just had to know what that situation would have looked like if it came to fruition. So it’s not necessarily inspired by the death of an ex-boyfriend, but by the loss of one. It feels like fanfiction of my life.”
With Silvera once again returning to familiar — and heartbreaking — territory, EW caught up with the author to discuss writing about grief, bisexuality, and mental health issues.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your first book also featured teenage grief. Is there something about that theme that draws you to it, or is it just really self-therapy?
ADAM SILVERA: It’s therapy, but in that I’m one of those people who’s constantly questioning mortality. For this book, it really was just lost love taken to the extremes. Not just a typical breakup. It’s a breakup plus the death of the person you thought you would reunite with. I was drawn to that. Because this book and my first book were inspired by heartbreak, I started to feel like the Taylor Swift of young adult, where, “You break my heart, I’m going to write a book about it.”
Is there a difference when depicting this kind of sadness with a teen audience in mind?
No. I haven’t written adult fiction, but I do not sugarcoat grief, or what I expect grief to be. I’ve lost people in my life before, but not to the scale of what’s represented in this book. What was important to me is, by the end of this book, that recovering from grief is always going to be difficult. This is someone you loved and imagined a future with. That’s devastating. This is one of your best friends, and that’s going to sit with you forever. There will be opportunities for hope and happiness, and happiness will return to your life, but you will always feel that loss if that person really meant that great a deal to you. That’s what I’m interested in putting out there, for teens that may have lost someone in their young lives.
One of the things exacerbating Griffin’s grief is that he’s also dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder. How much research did you have to do in terms of his compulsions and how they manifested?
Zero, because I have OCD and all of Griffin’s compulsions are my own. That was the easiest thing I’ve ever written. I’ve never been checked for OCD, but I know I’m not “quirky.” That was something I wanted to address. People tend to dismiss it as “you have a quirk” or associate it with what they see in mainstream media, like having to knock on a door a certain number of times. But there are times that I actually can’t function because I’m too caught up in obsessive thought. The things that I did research on were more what therapy would look like.
Griffin and Theo’s parents are very present in both of their lives. When did you decide that you wanted to feature them?
My first book was on the grittier side of life. A week before being published, I realized all of my main characters come from single households. That was something that when I lived in South Bronx, that’s what it was like. So I wanted to extend my muscles and write about a kid who grew up with happy parents. I just also wanted to show parents who were so positive about their sons being gay and bisexual and not caring about that. That was really important to me, to start moving past the necessary but typical narrative of parents being against their children’s sexuality. It was actually really challenging to explore the grief of the respective parents. They’re feeling that loss, as well.
Bisexual characters are rare in YA fiction. At what point did you know that Griffin’s ex Theo was bi as opposed to gay like Griffin himself?
You’re right that we don’t see it a lot in fiction. For me, I remember being 19 and coming out as bi to all of my friends. I’d had girlfriends, and all of these experiences and such, and then, as I got older, I started identifying as gay. The narrative that I was exposed to when I was younger was that there is no such thing as bisexual men. That there are just men who are gay and afraid to still fully come out, and they’re trying to retain some masculinity. I’d bought into that because I was younger. I wanted to just show that bisexuals exist. if [Theo]’s not 100 percent sure, that’s also important. He’s at the age where he’s figuring out his sexuality, and he’s just currently identifying as bisexual. Maybe at 20, if he’d been around to be alive, he would have identified as just gay.
There are a lot more YA books dealing with topics like this coming out now. Why do you think that is?
Honestly, it’s awareness and realizing that there’s a demand for these stories. There are people out there who do want to read about these characters. That’s really heartening [because] more authors are feeling more encouraged to write these stories. I’m learning so many things that I just wasn’t aware of before, too. Following all of these conversations online about active representation, I find myself checking myself in my edits more so than ever before, making sure that what I’m saying is not harmful, like how I thought my sexuality wasn’t a thing because that’s the narrative that I was fed. It’s a really good time to be in YA. Some people are scared of getting it wrong, but you just have to put more muscle into doing the best job possible. The rewards of getting that right will be really incredible for the author.
History Is All You Left Me is currently available for purchase in stores and online.