Our narrator Sam is in a pretty terrible place. Her brother is addicted to her pain pills, her sister is persona non grata except for therapy sessions for a while, her dad is a bit checked out, and her mom is... Well, she's dead from the same car accident that badly broke Sam's leg and caused Sam to fall in a months-long pit of depression. Heck, it's still ongoing, causing her to use crutches most of the time, and she'd like to feel much less than she does. Then she meets Eliot, a guy who can't feel any pain whatsoever, when he's bothering Anthony, current posh drug dealer and former friend to Sam.
Oh, speaking of Anthony, I predict that if he were a real person, he'd grow up to kill someone. The red flags were all there and waving wildly in the wind.
As you'd expect, Sam indulges in some ableism when she admits to being jealous of Eliot's plight, but she realizes how wrong she was and gets better from it. The Art of Feeling isn't just about Sam getting better and making friend's with Eliot. It's just as much about her family, their attempts to fix what's broken between all of them, and the circumstances that led to the car crash. The prose is strong, the emotions among Sam's family are palpable, and it's all bound to bring tears to your eyes at some point.
You're also going to cry because the Herring family's precious dog Tito dies. You can fuss about spoilers all you want, but THIS IS SOMETHING PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW. Because no one warned me, it messed me up for the next day or two. I'm still really raw from the passing of my cat Kai in May 2017, so a surprise dead animal in fiction is not something I want to encounter.
WHAT LEFT ME WANTING:
Eliot is a more complicated character in a not-necessarily-good way. Initially, he's reminiscent of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. I happen to despise that show and all its characters. Naturally, I despised Eliot for it. His character improves as the novel goes on, but it was tough to keep reading for a while solely because of how irritating he was.
Also, I'm calling Eliot's character queerbaiting because stuff he says is almost word-for-word what ace people might say to come out to someone, especially if they're an alloromantic ace. But the word is never used and I don't like Word of God rep.
His quote, coming when Sam tries to kiss him toward the novel's end: "I don't... I'm not... I've never felt... like other guys do, Sam. I've never been... interested in the end result of kissing." (Unfortunately, I can't cite a page because this is coming from my eARC and my attempts to confirm it online have been fruitless.)
That's a really, *really* alloromantic asexual thing to say! It clearly expresses you like kissing and lovey stuff but not the physical stuff. Heck, I've said some of that almost word-for-word to explain that I'm aromantic asexual. Reading that with no confirmation of his identity felt like being teased when I'm still starving for representation.
I sent Tims a message asking if Eliot was ace, but I sent it March 9th and I'm writing this on March 24th. No response.
Then again, it might be a good thing he's not confirmed ace because then his character would be pretty problematic based on the characterization Eliot gets throughout the novel as socially clueless. Though I'd love to read a book about a disabled asexual person and their complex feelings about their identity, that would need to be an #ownvoices book.
Though it may seem like I dislike The Art of Feeling, I absolutely did not. With only those few reservations, I loved this book and hope Tims continues writing so I can shove more of her words into my aching eyes. Coming out of depression and back into the lives of the friends and family you isolated yourself from, pulling your family back together after a parent dies, fighting ableism, and more--The Art of Feeling covers a great deal in its 336 pages and does it well. Worth reading as long as you're prepared for and warned about the dog dying.