Review: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

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A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares 

By: Krystal Sutherland and Tara Sands (Narrator) 

My Rating: 4 Stars

Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.

Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.

Beware spoilers ahead!

Trigger warning: Death, mention of murder’s, physical violence, mention of war, mention of kidnapping, suicide attempt, mention of critically injured animal, and abusive parent.

The Solar family has been cursed by death. During their grandfather’s war days, he met death. Not just once but many times. Death cursed the Solar family to die from a fear. Hence why Esther Solar made a list of fears. Then she meets Jonah, a childhood friend. Much to her surprise he robs her. The two meet again with Jonah promising to help Esther conquer her list.

In 2016 Sutherland released her debut. I didn’t much care for it. I decided to check out this book because the synopsis sounded good. I am happy to say that I enjoyed it!

The book is written in third person omniscient following Esther and flashbacks of her grandfather with death. There is one scene that is narrated from Death’s point of view. The chapters are titled based off a fear of Esther’s. Some chapters just have titles that don’t pertain to Esther’s list.

I’m really happy that I gave this book a shot! It was good and I enjoyed the magical realism aspect a lot. Even the family and friendship dynamics. I also felt that the author excelled at portraying mental health.

I liked Esther! She was a great character. I especially loved her growth and that she ended up loving herself. Esther’s list of fears is based on things she’s seen on tv and heard stories about. The list was quite interesting. And you can honestly fear most of it. By the end she did love and acknowledge every aspect of herself. 

I liked Eugene a lot. He is Esther’s twin. He spends a lot of his time trying to convince Esther that the curse isn’t real. That their family has mental illnesses. The two have a really close bond. And it was nice to read about.

Esther doesn’t have the best relationship with her parents. Her father never leaves their basement. There’s a bathroom and food gets brought down. Meanwhile their mother who used to be so strong isn’t anymore. Their mother spends her time gambling. Her top concern is their money. Esther is torn up over her parents and doesn’t know what to do.

Hephzibah is Esther’s best friend. The two of them used to be friends with Jonah and met each other in school. Esther has never heard Hephzibah speak. The two communicate in sign language and text messages. I enjoyed their friendship! 

Jonah and Esther of course didn’t have a good introduction. When Esther sees him again she punches him. Which was justified. Things happen and the two come to an agreement. Their relationship was so cute! I really enjoyed the two of them tackling the list. Jonah and Esther were rocks for each other. They really helped each other grow. And they were such a cute couple! 

Death was such a nice connection! I enjoyed reading the flashbacks with him and their grandfather. It was a nice touch of magical realism. And brought the grandfather as a character. In present day the grandfather is dying. There were a lot of good quotes with their conversations. And the topic of death was tackled in such an interesting manner.

I especially liked that at the end all the characters are still struggling with their mental health. Eugene and Esther decide to go get therapy. Yay for positive therapy rep! Their family is still struggling. The relationship to one-another makes them so strong. Jonah doesn’t just magically cure Esther. She is still working on it.

Overall I really enjoyed this book! I highly recommend.   

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