As with any invisible illness, sometimes the easiest thing to do is hide. Regan has become a master of hiding her true self, (thanks to her mom’s polished advice from years of being a congresswoman), and so far it’s worked out well for everyone. Everyone that is except for the people Regan’s words have hurt. On top of her early demise, Regan’s anxiety medication helps, but she recognizes herself becoming more dependent as her panic attacks worsen. When her best friend’s older brother (and social pariah) Nolan, starts to befriend her, Regan wonders if she really could find freedom in being herself. Only problem is, she doesn’t know who that real Regan is.
This book was equal parts delightful and heartbreaking. I particularly enjoyed how none of the characters shied away from openly,(even if not at first), discussing addictions and invisible illnesses. The entire book touched on various struggles, never making one appear worse than the other, but acknowledging that sometimes what we see on the surface isn’t the entire story. While Regan battled her own demons, she found herself experiencing freedom through being open about her anxiety disorder.
As Regan learns how to be herself, she also begins to learn more about her contribution to the bullying problem at her high school. I really loved how Regan’s realization that she had been a bully helped her resolve to build up those she had hurt. Rather than wallow in her guilt, she takes initiative and shows real courage by standing up for others, and standing up for herself. I think that this message is so important to share with readers, especially in a way that isn’t overbearing or preachy. Life Unaware allowed me to observe this faction of high school while contemplating what I can do to improve my own sphere of influence.
I typically don’t enjoy love stories in contemporary fiction, but experiencing Regan’s first love as she simultaneously battles a disorder was refreshing and tender. Like so many of us, our lives are not made up of one experience, illness, or emotion - we’re complex and multifaceted. Unlike some contemporary romances, Life Unaware was able to capture the rush of falling in love without pushing some very serious issues to the back burner. Each story thread held its own, and both Regan’s struggles and joys were treated fairly throughout.
One thing I would have liked was a less predictable beginning. I was hoping that Regan’s accusers would have been a little more creative, and ultimately the first few chapters felt too similar to Mean Girls. I would have loved to see more originality on the high school popular girl trope, and in doing so, highlight the unique supporting cast of Regan’s band of friends. Overall, the story did eventually take on a life of its own, making the last half of the book my favorite contemporary read this year.
Life Unaware is a perfect fit for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr. This book takes readers through the highs and lows of high school, serving as a reminder of how kind words hold more power than we realize, and that life is precious and worth fighting for.