Group Review: Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan

Normal is just a setting on the dryer. 
High school graduate Jeremey Samson is looking forward to burying his head under the covers and sleeping until it’s time to leave for college. Then a tornado named Emmet Washington enters his life. The double major in math and computer science is handsome, forward, wicked smart, interested in dating Jeremey—and he’s autistic.

But Jeremey doesn’t judge him for that. He’s too busy judging himself, as are his parents, who don’t believe in things like clinical depression. When his untreated illness reaches a critical breaking point, Emmet is the white knight who rescues him and brings him along as a roommate to The Roosevelt, a quirky new assisted living facility nearby.

As Jeremey finds his feet at The Roosevelt, Emmet slowly begins to believe he can be loved for the man he is behind the autism. But before he can trust enough to fall head over heels, he must trust his own conviction that friendship is a healing force, and love can overcome any obstacle.

Warning: Contains characters obsessed with trains and counting, positive representations of autism and mental illness, a very dark moment, and Elwood Blues.

When the request to review Carry the Ocean came into the clubhouse several of us were interested - but also a little scared. The two MC's are far from the a-typical romantic leads and, as they were dealing with autism and depression, there was every chance this novel was going to be an emotionally hard read. So we did what unicorns do best and decided to share this journey - this wonderful, amazing journey. Here is what Sunny and I (Lorix) thought.

This story hit me hard, but in a good way. Emmet and Jeremey, and all their thoughts and emotions, felt so real. I want everyone to know these characters; ones I wish existed in real life because they are that wonderful.

Emmet's voice was so clear, his personality came across immediately and I knew him and loved him.

It’s like Elwood Blues says: everybody needs somebody to love. I’m an everybody. I get a somebody.

I shouldn’t have worried so much about it. Frankly, I’m awesome, and anybody who doesn’t agree should get out of my way. 

I loved his parents, too...

My mom says disorder makes it sound as if there’s something wrong with me, and there isn’t. I’m wired differently, but she says so is everyone if you come right down to it. 

She’s a mom with lots of superpowers, but she says they’re powered by hugs. 

...and the winks and ice cream from his dad :)

When he saw Jeremey, and wanted to meet him, wanted to be his boyfriend, his plans to make it happen were awesome.

The night before I practiced all my facial recognition charts and went through my flash cards of appropriate getting-to-know-a-boyfriend conversation. 

My heart melted.

So we meet Jeremy, with his depression and anxiety, and I just wanted to hug him. And take out his mother >:[
Well versed in 'modifications', Emmet was pragmatic about Jeremy's situation and was able to suggest strategies to help him deal with problem areas. His easy acceptance of Jeremey's diagnosis was so sweet, and his perspective of what it meant was spot on.

“Depression likes to eat happy things, sometimes.”

Watching the two of them get to know each other, learn from each was so honest, no games. I loved that. For someone who supposedly had problems interacting with others, I found Emmet's way of communicating, especially with his hand signs and t-shirts, to be refreshingly direct. 

When they moved into the Roosevelt, their relationship moved up another level, with sex added to the mix. 

I have a thing about my nipples being played with, and Emmet knows all about it.
There was a slight hint of D/s that played out naturally and made me grin even more.

When serious conflict occurred, my chest hurt and it was hard to breath, but they way it played out was wonderful...again, honest and real.

Jeremy's baby steps to managing his depression and anxiety also felt realistic. No magic cures, just a lot of work, but also hope. The support from his friends was heartwarming, and when he figured some stuff was awesome :)

For a story with sad topics, this wasn't a depressing read. Emmet and Jeremey were so good for each other, and their love was beautiful to see. 

All the stars for this one *hugs e-reader*

I'm not sure I know where to start with my review of this book. Partly I want to just shout THIS BOOK IS AMAZING, EVERYONE READ IT NOW, and partly I want to break it down, to get inside it and work out why this went straight on my favourites shelf.

First of all, let's address the genius that is Heidi Cullinan. I've read and enjoyed - really enjoyed - several of her books, but this has topped the list as my favourite. What Heidi shows time and again is meticulous research into her characters. This doesn't mean she dumps a whole load of information in each book about them but it absolutely shows in every line, every action, every character thought she writes. This book was no exception.

Books/films with an autistic MC have been done before, but what Heidi manages to do is make Emmet a character who happens to have autism rather than him be an autistic character. It's a fine line, a subtle difference, but it makes the story one I couldn't put down. All good authors make their characters come alive. They give them traits and tics and personality and this is what helps move a story along - action and reaction, just as we're all different, so should characters in books be. 

Emmet's life is affected by his autism in that he makes decisions and judgements based on the way his brain is wired. His personality is created by this. This doesn't mean he is not a normal person (as he says, normal is a setting on a dryer) he is perfectly normal. His normal is just different - as is mine, as is yours. We are all individual. We are all different. I love how Heidi shows Emmet working at the things he finds harder - recognition of other's emotions for example. We all have things that come easily and things that don't - me, I have to work harder at maths.  Emmet may have needed a little help to function independently but that doesn't mean he is unable to do so. 

It is fair to say, that even with his difficulty in emotional recognition, he is the one who was able to help Jeremey the most. Jeremey, who is severely clinically depressed, has his own trouble functioning in society. I have to say I understood Jeremey so well. Depression is so often badly portrayed and, though it affects everyone differently, this portrayal felt real to me. It was real to me. As a sometime sufferer I understand so well that feeling of worrying about making the wrong decision, of just wanting to get in bed and hide under the covers, of the tiredness and how difficult conversation is with people, even those you know really well. Jeremey needs support from his family and he isn't getting it. The more they insist he acts a certain way the deeper he is falling into the blackness. Yet Emmet breaks it down in a simplistic way and 'gets' Jeremey, when others really don't.

When Emmet and Jeremey form their friendship, Jeremey's family show a lot of prejudice about Emmet - and that's before the friendship moves further than just friends.  This book shows us the strength in understanding others and not making judgements. It shows us the realism of living 'outside the norm', of dealing with depression and autism and how, if we look beyond the labels, Emmet and Jeremey are just as normal as you and I.

I'm not even sure I've chipped at the surface of why this book is so damn good - but if I don't stop soon this blog post will be rivalling the book in length. I would urge everyone to read this. Read about love and friendship in its most basic form, without the expectations society dictates to many of us. It really is the best tale of love and family and friendship I've read in a long while.

A copy of this book was given in exchange for an honest review.
To find out more, check out Goodreads.

1 comment:

  1. This book is already on my list - Heidi Cullinan can do no wrong in my eyes! Just wanted to say that both reviews were great.