Updated: Apr 21, 2020
Little Universes, Heather Demetrios Pub. Date: April 7, 2020 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ *This Advanced Reader’s E-copy was provided through NetGalley and Henry, Holt and Co. (BYR), free of charge.* TW: abuse of drugs/alcohol, abortion, drug addiction, depression, suicide/suicidal thoughts How could a work of fiction understand me better than most of the people in my life? An Acorn You know that feeling that comes over you every once in a while? The one where everything is quiet and calm, but almost shaking with trepidation at the same time - something will happen soon and you aren’t worried. You are ready. Waiting for it, peacefully. Maybe it comes on as you walk in the sunny park, or on your morning commute to work. For me, it came on as I read Little Universes by Heather Demetrios, during this chaotic time of COVID-19 and the accompanying uncertainties. This story of sadness, support, and space - outer and inner - is a siren song with which you can distract yourself and come out a little bit older, sadder, and wiser. A person who knows themselves, their What, and what kind of universe they want to be.
Sisters Mae and Hannah Winters are trying to figure out what kind of universes they each want to be. For Mae, that universe is, quite literally, in space - she wants to be an astronaut and has her life planned out. She knows what will happen and when, but doesn’t plan for any detours. Hannah, on the other hand, finds relief in pills, alcohol, and her boyfriend Micah. She just wants to float through life and figure out things as they come up. However, both of their lives are upended when their parents are killed by a tsunami in Malaysia. The two sisters end up packing up and moving from sunny California to downcast Boston with their aunt, uncle, and cousin. Mae struggles with her own relationships and keeping Hannah in orbit, while Hannah tries to drown out all of her grief and anger with pills. Through love - both familial and romantic - Mae and Hannah eventually learn how to honor and move on from the past. The concept of the universe as a whole is very prevalent through Little Universes. From scientific discussions that their dad, a renowned physicist, held with magazines, to intimate conversations between lovers. Demetrios asks the reader the question “What is your universe and how are you occupying it?” This book gets very philosophical and deep and makes me question not only my past, but also my present and future. There is a heady mixture of both scientific and spiritual answers to these questions, and it drags you down until you can’t think of anything else but the What. Demetrios defines the What as the point of everything in your life - your reason for living or why you were brought into existence. To counteract the existential crisis that would probably occur if you linger on it for too long, she then presents a band-aid of sorts: there is no What besides our journey through the universe. In fact, we are all simultaneously the universe and expanding along with it. There is no answer, and it is okay to not have an answer. On a personal note, Little Universes came into my life during the COVID-19 pandemic, when I had been in self-isolation for about two weeks. I had been dealing not only with my usual depressive states, but heightened anxiety and panic attacks, all while also processing how my life and/or relationships were being affected by the pandemic. Reading Little Universes was an emotional experience for me, culminating in a manic episode accompanied by my “Already Fucked Up” playlist in the background. However, after finishing it, I feel refreshed - washed clean by this benediction of grief and sadness and mistakes. This book can get very sad and numbing, but in the end, you are rewarded with hope and calmness. Much like the tarot cards that Hannah uses, our present is not only defined by our past - it is also defined by the future and what we choose to do with it. One of the things that allowed me to take on such a personal stance on this book is Demetrios’ portrayal of mental health issues. Little Universes deals with the portrayal of mental health very professionally, but also in an intimate manner. Hannah deals with depression and anxiety, as well as addiction, and it is very realistic in how Demetrios writes it. I feel seen as a reader with depression and other mental health issues, somehow more than I do by my family and most of my friends. Hannah writes these mini-poems, coined “acorns” by Yoko Ono, about her situation and feelings. Upon reading each one, I felt like Demetrios had seen my innermost thoughts and found a way to write them out so I could recognize that they existed. I tried to write some acorns of my own as you can see above, but they don’t seem to ring as true as hers do. The only possible downside I can see to Little Universes is the ending. Going into a book about addiction and grief, you find yourself subconsciously hoping that everyone gets a fairy tale ending. However, real life rarely reflects the fairy tales we grow up learning, and Demetrios holds us to real life standards. The ending, while a little heartbreaking, doesn’t tell the reader a lie - things are rough and will be rough for a while. But in the end, it is up to us and our futures to decide how we transform ourselves into our own little universes. Little Universes by Heather Demetrios is a five-star read, but be warned: she will take you on an emotional journey that will leave you missing your sibling and Snapchatting them until they send you twenty memes to shut you up (which definitely was not what happened to me... definitely not). This book should be read when you are in good mental health or when you need a literary baptism. But when you need that cleansing, Little Universes awaits you. Want more books similar to Little Universes, or want to know if you will like it? If you like these books:
Girl in Pieces, by Kathleen Glasgow
The Female of the Species, by Mindy McGinnis
Emergency Contact, by Mary H. K. Choi
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
You will definitely enjoy Little Universes, coming out on April 7th to a bookstore (hopefully open) near you. Please think about ordering from your indie bookstore if you can afford it - they need our help during this time. Let me know what you think of my review! Until next time, ~ Chloe