Review: We Are All So Good At Smiling - Amber McBride
Genre: Novel in Verse Published: Feiwel Friends, January 2023 My Rating: 5/5 stars
"My point is that a leaf knows it’s important at all moments of its life, even when its broken. People always forget that a rough day, a bad year, doesn’t equal a bad life."
I’ve been eagerly anticipating whatever Amber McBride would bring the world after her phenomenal debut Me: Moth, that made a running entrance into my favourite books of 2021 list. Her sophomore release rose to the occasion and brought an experience that felt emotionally and thematically similar Me Moth, but still brought something new to the table.
We're All So Good at Smiling is an absolutely brilliant, deeply personal and emotionally resonant novel in verse about two teens dealing with grief, depression, identity and more. Both central characters are haunted by their own personal trauma’s that have shaped their lives and the physical neighbourhood around them. The dark forest at the end of Marsh Creek Lane is filled with suffocating roots and monsters, and the only way to escape it is to travel straight through. I loved the journey Faerry and Whimsy take together and their friendship they form along the way. The author illustrates it best by a single scene that lingers in my mind: Faerry and Whimsy stumbling through the forest, neither one carrying the other out, but leaning on each other. They struggle together and keep each other up, while they save themselves.
Even more impressive than her characters is Amber McBrides writing, allegories and metaphors. Despite the heavy subject matter and the depth in which this story dares to explore it, We're All So Good at Smiling manages an undertone of hope, beauty and music in both its language and message. It’s a story that flows and uplifts, especially when listening to the audiobook narrated by the author and interspliced with beautiful music.
Because of that, I slightly resent the publishers comp/blurb of "They Both Die at the End meets The Bell Jar". This book isn’t like either of those. It’s not suffocatingly heavy at any moment (which The Bell Jar absolutely can be), nor does it romanticize mental health-issues, or have a deliberately tear-jerking ending like They Both Die at the End. I think this comparison does a huge disservice to the uniqueness of this book, and gives a wrong expectation of the tone and content. We're All So Good at Smiling stands on its own as a powerful achievement of story in verse and deserves to be marketed as such.
Amber McBride has another release scheduled for October this year, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting Gone Wolf. This second masterpiece has cemented her as an auto-buy poet for me.