The unflinching, chaotic yet formidable bond and loyalty between siblings; a sense of cultural belonging and growth ; the candid veracity of mental illness and post-partum depression — Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, Everything Here is Beautiful gave us the true definition of familial love and the necessity of seeing beauty amidst wreckage.

Growing up, my younger sister and I were never really too close; in fact, we were like cat and dog; oil and water.  It wasn’t until we became adults, flourished into motherhood together, that we began to see just how much we, in fact, needed one another.  How strong our invisible connection truly was.  Planted from the hands of loving, well-meaning parents, rooted in culture and tradition, thriving in memories new and old.  This is why this novel resonated with me so much.

“Extraordinary. . . If you love anyone at all, this book is going to get you.” – USA Today

It tells, in somewhat-alternating POV’s, the story of two sisters, their tenuous relationship with each other, their partners, and the world around them. Miranda Bok has always been a dutiful daughter, a dutiful big sister, but her mother dies, and her younger sister, Lucia, has her first episode. Schizophrenia? Bipolar? The doctors are undecided, but these episodes will mark Lucia’s life, and Miranda’s as she is called back from her own life repeatedly to care for her sister.

Lee explores with a delicate ponderousness the complexity of family relationships. How much do you owe a family member? How much of your own life must be put on hold in order to care for another? What if they don’t even want you to? Is it worth sacrificing your relationship for the sake of their health?

I did wish we saw more of Miranda, whose perspective I found a bit more interesting than Lucia’s. While I thought her portrayal of Lucia’s mental health was compelling and interesting, I wished we got to see more of the impact on Miranda, considering the way in which the story is framed. While we get to see the ultimate impact on Miranda’s life, the ins and outs and the bulk of the pages give us much more insight into Lucia, who is not always an easy character to root for, even though you want to. The rest of the cast is also at once well-drawn but morally grey, and it is a testament to Lee’s evocative understanding of humanity that we care for them deeply despite their questionable actions.

I also was drawn to how the story also touches a lot on cultural traditions and the challenges immigrants face, even to this day, in America (which as you know is a very substantial and sad issue), with only the best intentions of providing a better life for themselves and their families.

Many different types of love were portrayed in this novel and much like the butterfly in the cover, how each relationship developed and prospered in different directions despite the obstacles.  A truly beautiful must-read, although a bit slow, left an affecting impression.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mira T. Lee after this one.

Learn more about Everything Here is Beautiful including where to purchase here.

Disclosure: CAC received this sample book copy as a partner of Penguin Random House Canada for review purposes. All opinions expressed are entirely those of the author.

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