“So many secrets in this house. And yet, the one secret I should have told years ago is the one I’ve kept the quietest.”
Colleen Hoover is one of the queens of modern day romance. She always takes on dark topics and provides the reader with unexpected twists that will rip your heart out. I’ve read and enjoyed almost everything she’s written, but Without Merit is a different beast.
I keep seeing reviewers say that this is a coming of age story, which is true, but this book is so much more than that. This book is about depression; the ugly, the bad, the denial, the finding out, the coping, the normalcy, the everyday living. This book is so important. More important than I could possibly find words for. This is a heavy book about mental health, and its equal parts quiet and loud at the same time. The story itself has me torn between four and five stars, but I’m going to give this five stars because I wish I could put this book in the hands of every young adult.
Trigger warnings for depression, suicide, drug and substance abuse, childhood trauma, and a somewhat outing (maybe, questionable, I’m not sure, but I still feel it is important to mention).
But, let me scream from the rooftops: this book has pansexual representation. Like, I’m not sure if you guys know how rare it is to see that on the page still in 2017, but it is. It’s a side character, but this character still plays a pretty big and impactful part in this story. I was in tears when I read it, and I think Colleen Hoover so damn much for adding this into an already important and impactful book.
“Labels were invented for people like you who can’t grasp a reality outside of a defined gender role. I like what I like. Sometimes I like women, sometimes I like men.”
Without Merit has one of the best first chapters I’ve ever read, out of any of the genres I’ve read, from any book I’ve read. And, guys, I’ve read a lot of first chapters. From the opening line to the last line, I was so immersed and so completely enthralled in this story and, more importantly, with Merit.
“I have an impressive collection of trophies that I did not win”
Merit is a very unusual girl, with a very unusual living situation. Her father, out of spite, bought a church and revamped it into a house for their family to live in.
“No one would be able to determine from the outside of our house that our family of seven includes an atheist, a home wrecker, an ex-wife suffering from a severe case of agoraphobia, and a teenage girl whose weird obsession borders on necrophilia. No one would be able to determine any of that from inside our house, either. We’re good at keeping secrets in this family.”
Merit also collects trophies that she did not win. She stole her first after something hurtful happened to her, and ever since she has been getting them every time she has a significant bad thing happen to her. Merit is feeling more fed-up than usual, and decides to peruse an antique store, because there is a certain trophy she has had her eye on for quite some time that will maybe fill the void she is feeling at this moment. And in this antique store, she crosses paths with a boy named Sagan, who ends up changing her life.
“Out of all the places we could be, we’re right here. At the same time.”
Merit is carrying a lot of sadness, most of which she doesn’t realize she is carrying. This book is centered around depression, but it’s also about perspective. This story is told only in Merit’s point of view, and we get to see how loneliness is easy to feel, even when you do live in a house with many different people. Yet, Merit is a borderline unreliable narrator. Well, she isn’t, but it’s just like when you read Harry Potter, why does Gryffindor look like the best house and why do Slytherins look so evil? Well, it’s because you’re reading this story told from Harry’s perspective. The same goes for Without Merit, you are reading these events form Merit’s perspective, not the other members of her family.
“I wonder what that must be like—to live in a normal family. A family where people actually give a shit.”
Also, this story is so important because it talks about how every single person is fighting their own battles and trials. Just because you feel like “someone has it worse than you” doesn’t make your situation less. Everyone feels things differently, everyone accepts differently, everyone copes differently. I loved how this book brought this up, and how we should never use “so and so has it worse than me” as a way to rationalize and ignore what we are really feeling and experiencing.
“It annoys me when people try to convince other people that their anger or stress isn’t warranted if someone else in the world is worse off than them. It’s bullshit. Your emotions and reactions are valid, Merit. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. You’re the only one who feels them.”
I guess I should also touch on the romance in this book, because it is a CoHo book! The romance in this is beautiful. There are no steamy scenes or anything like that, but the romance is prevalent from chapter one. But the relationship between Merit and Sagan is a healthy and supportive one that I think is pretty important for teens to read about.
“A person can’t help their attraction to another person, but a person can help their actions toward another person.”
As for the negative things about this book. I am not sure if I like the way the agoraphobia was handedly in this book. I can speak for days on own voices pan and depression rep, but I don’t feel comfortable speaking about agoraphobia. I will say that some of the statements towards the person made me a little uncomfortable, and just in general I just didn’t love the way this character and all the aspects of their mental health were treated. Also, if I find an own voices agoraphobia review, I will totally link it here! And if you guys find one, please link it in my comments!
Another thing that made me a little uncomfortable is a MILD SPOILER: There was an almost sex scene between a seventeen-year-old and a twenty-year-old. Like, I know this is okay in some states, also, they did not actually have sex, but I was still a little uncomfortable reading it. Also, I think it’s important to mention, because I know many readers would like to know this going in.
And the last thing I disliked was the big reveal to the secret that Merit has been holding on to and trying to suppress for years and years. I know things like this happen, and I know they are uncomfortable to read about, because we as a society sweep “dark” things under the rug, but I just didn’t like the reveal. I wish it was something different, maybe even worse than what it was. Yet, I still think the problem was important, and something that probably should be talked about A LOT more. And like, this book really is a love letter to communication, and how important communication in any and all relationships is. Sexual relationships, parental and child relationships, sibling relationships, any kind of relationship.
“Maybe that’s the root of a lot of family issues. It isn’t actually the issues people are hung up about for so long. It’s that no one has the courage to take the first step in talking about the issues.”
But besides these three things, I really loved this book. And I think it’s the second most important book I’ve read all year. Plus, like, Colleen Hoover is such a good writer. People can talk about the problematic elements and toxic masculinity in some of her books, but Colleen Hoover has one of the best contemporary lyrical proses out there. She’s probably only second best to Tarryn Fisher. (Colleen is going to hate this comment if she ever sees this review!) Her words are magical, and addicting, and I always am able to read her books in a 24-hour period, because I just can’t put them down. And the writing in Without Merit is no exception, it is absolutely beautifully crafted and written as well.
“I also don’t trust people who claim for a classic to be their favorite novel. I think they’re lying just to sound educated, or they simply haven’t read another book beyond high school English requirements.”
And I also feel the need to just gush a little bit about the character of Merit and my undying and unwavering love for her. I know I called her a bit of an unreliable narrator up above, but she is easily one of the best protagonists I’ve have the pleasure of reading in 2017. I feel like everyone can at least see a little bit of themselves in Merit, even if they’d rather pretend that they don’t.
This book, these characters, this family, and this story means so very much to me. Pick this book up. Give this book to your kids. Share this book with everyone you know. Then talk about the topics and discussions. We need to normalize depression, because it really is just that; normal. It’s just like needing glasses, or being lactose intolerant, it’s a normal thing that happens way more frequently than we think, because people stigmatize it so much. And for the record, you don’t have to be sad or suicidal to have depression. We need to also normalize therapy and talk about how important seeking help for mental illness is! And all of these conversations can save lives. Please pick up this book.
If you would like more information on depression, please visit The Anxiety and Depression Association of America at https://adaa.org, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or just message me on any platform and I will always be here to listen.
“I found out that depression doesn’t necessarily mean a person is miserable or suicidal all the time. Indifference is also a sign of depression.”