On a hot day in Bethlehem, a 12-year-old Palestinian-American girl is yelled at by a group of men outside the Church of the Nativity. She has exposed her legs in a biblical city, an act they deem forbidden, and their judgement will echo on through her adolescence. When our narrator finally admits to her mother that she is queer, her mother’s response only intensifies a sense of shame: “You exist too much,” she tells her daughter.
Told in vignettes that flash between the U.S. and the Middle East―from New York to Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine―Zaina Arafat’s debut novel traces her protagonist’s progress from blushing teen to sought-after DJ and aspiring writer. In Brooklyn, she moves into an apartment with her first serious girlfriend and tries to content herself with their comfortable relationship. But soon her longings, so closely hidden during her teenage years, explode out into reckless romantic encounters and obsessions with other people. Her desire to thwart her own destructive impulses will eventually lead her to The Ledge, an unconventional treatment center that identifies her affliction as “love addiction.” In this strange, enclosed society she will start to consider the unnerving similarities between her own internal traumas and divisions and those of the places that have formed her.
Opening up the fantasies and desires of one young woman caught between cultural, religious, and sexual identities, You Exist Too Much is a captivating story charting two of our most intense longings―for love, and a place to call home.
I got an ARC of this book.
This book is interesting. I am not sure I have the words to explain how I feel about it. I read just enough to decide this book was a coming of age and coming out novel for a queer person. This is not quite wrong, but it is far form right.
The actual plot reads like a bad bi rep book written by a straight person who is afraid of bi people. The bi person is a constant and prolific cheater. She sleeps with pretty much everyone that offers and just think of all the bi stereotypes like unable to commit and you have the main character. The only part that I was interested in when it came to the sexuality of the character was the love addiction. That was fascinating. The way that that plot was told was something I enjoyed. If it didn’t come attached to terrible bi rep, then I would have liked this book a lot more.
The formatting of the book was weird. It was told between memories of childhood and the current time. The memories did not always seem related to what was happening and they were not always linear. There were times that the flashbacks were just so jarring that I was not sure what time I was in and what was really happening. Yet, I was captivated by this. I loved seeing these glimpses of the the past. It felt like these memories were what the character was working on and what was relevant for the trauma that she had experienced. There was a lot to unpack and a lot to see. As the MC progressed, there were less flashbacks. It was really cool in the end.
The ending was bullshit. Forgiving your abuser, because she also faced abuse does not magically fix a relationship or the trauma that either faced. It just felt like a cop out. I would have loved a more open ended ending. It would have fit better. Or the ending was a memory. That would have also worked. It just felt like there was too much that was magically fixed or a lot better than should have been.
I was annoyed that the MC had no name. Though it also made a lot of sense. It fit this idea that the MC was always losing herself in someone else and hadn’t really formed a full identity of her own from her mother, but it also felt like a writing ploy that I used in high school a lot when I was suffering from a lot of untreated mental health issues (spoiler, it was. I used it ALL the time). So if it is something I would have done, I would expect better from a published author. The author spent so much time in one section explaining about the mother’s name, yet the MC had none. It felt a little weird. It also kept all the partners at a distance since they couldn’t even say her name when they were speaking to her. The little details. So I am really on the fence with this idea.
Overall, the book held my attention, but I wouldn’t really think it was a good book. It wasn’t bad, but it was also one of those weird books that it seems like only I like. The terrible bi rep was awful. I don’t expect every bi character to be amazing, but when most of the bi rep is about a person being a stereotype it is too much. This book could have had a lesbian and had a more powerful plot. So this really does matter.
3 out of 5 stars. I would maybe recommend this book.
You can buy the book here.