The Impossibility of Us by Katy Upperman (2018)
YA Fiction | Contemporary | Romance
“The last thing Elise wants is to start her senior year in a new town. But after her brother’s death in Afghanistan, she and her mother move from San Francisco to a sleepy coastal village.
When Elise meets Mati, they quickly discover how much they have in common. Mati is new to town too, visiting the U.S. with his family. Over the course of the summer, their relationship begins to blossom, and what starts out as a friendship becomes so much more.
But as Elise and Mati grow closer, her family becomes more and more uncomfortable with their relationship, and their concerns all center on one fact—Mati is Afghan.
Beautifully written, utterly compelling, and ultimately hopeful, THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF US asks—how brave can you be when your relationship is questioned by everyone you love?”
pooled ink Review:
I am SOBBING and I am SWOONING and I am SOBBING SOME MORE. I could read this book a hundred times over just to spend more time with them ♥
Twinkle, twinkle shiny star,
she has marked him like a scar.
This book had emotions! It was a complicated story to write as it undertook a series of complex relationships and pain to explore but I feel like it did a really good job. It took up issues that had to be handled carefully, lovingly, compassionately, but adamantly, and it did. I fell so in love and invested that I was ready to light the book on fire if it ended the way it promised but I don’t consider it a spoiler but an incentive to tell you that you will be happy with the ending. You will smile and dance and maybe cry some more haha.
The issue in its simplest terms (because it’s honestly not simple at all) is a girl dealing with the loss of her brother who was killed while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and a boy from Afghanistan dealing with isolation and racism in the U.S. Two seemingly incompatible people except that their souls feel otherwise. They are drawn towards one another after a chance meeting and as they spend more and more time together they both begin to heal and rise above. While the majority of the book is from Elise’s POV we do get a few chapters from Mati’s POV which are all written in verse as he’s a writer/poet and I loved this choice. I honestly love these two so much, Elise and Mati are just two beautiful people and I love them!
I like the way you smile,
as if with your whole self.
I like the timbre of your voice,
the confident soprano of your words.
I like your courage,
the way you fearlessly
return danger’s black gaze.
But there are things I do not like…
The shape your shoulders make,
when they bow with sorrow.
The sad shuffle of your feet,
when they carry you away.
And the way my heart misses
a girl it hardly knows.
So yes, the slow-burn romance was utterly captivating and I fell in love right alongside them but then there are those deeper issues that are delved into as a part of their journey. Elise’s mom and sister-in-law (and Elise for a little while although less so) have become jaded, hardened, and blind (kind words to really say racists lol) against all things Muslim and Afghanistan. But it isn’t simple. It’s understandable.
Their son/husband/brother was taken from them and that leaves a very deep and very real pain. In the face of such tragedy it would be asking an awful lot for them to instinctually not harbor some anger towards the people responsible and when they don’t know the individuals responsible then the country they are a part of will have to suffice. Sometimes people feel as if this generalization is unique to white people, as if only we are so basic and savage that we cannot see above our hatred, but it is a natural instinct of humans, all humans.
War is something common to all nations and even now you will find people who think less than kindly towards past oppressors even though the horrors subjected to their past were executed by the few and not the many. Or even on a smaller scale, you lose a friend in a school shooting and suddenly you hate everyone who owns a gun and want to outlaw their very existence. But then there are those who have managed to grasp onto perspective and are willing to embrace the truths, to learn and understand to heal the pain rather than wallow and scream in it with wrathful futility. I remember a documentary I watched and when they stopped in Vietnam the hosts met a few U.S. veterans who had served during the Vietnam War and had made a pilgrimage to the land they once were ordered to attack. They had met with some Vietnamese soldiers and these two groups, once enemies, were able to talk, to forgive, and to form a friendship that allowed both to lay down the burden of anger and guilt and move forwards towards a life of peace. Besides, in this case, it wasn’t the soldiers or even the countries their anger needed to target but the leaders who forced them to dole out the horrors that haunt them.
I lean forward to gather a great scoop of sand.
“Hold out your hands.”
She complies, dubious,
mapping me with her stare.
I pour the cool grains from my hands to hers.
I wave an open palm over the sand she holds
and say, “The people of my country.”
She nods, bright-eyed.
…I rob a few grains from the wealth she holds.
They nest among the whorls of my fingertip.
I show them to her.
“These are the Afghans who are bad,” I say.
“They twist Allah’s words,
and use the Quran to justify violence.”
I blow the sand from my finger;
it finds the wind and sails away.
The anger that Elise’s mom and sister-in-law have, that deep-seated and seemingly impossible to let go anger, is understandable. It is understandable because they are in pain. Elise was too but with Mati’s help she heals. And how does Mati help her? Not just by whispering sweet words and batting his lovely eyelashes, but by helping her understand his people. He guides her without judgment through explaining his faith, his country, his family, and himself. He helps her gain a new perspective, to break free of the anger that comes with the pain and see clearly, see compassionately, see truthfully.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
There are some very tough scenes to read in this book, I’m not lying when I say it’s packed with a roller-coaster of emotions, but the soft glowing hope of Elise and Mati’s love is like a lighthouse on a stormy night guiding you through the anguish to the promise that is the end.
I could talk about this book for hours, it was actually a pick for my library book club and it was a month that I couldn’t attend so I didn’t bother reading it but for some reason it ended up in my stack of library books months later and now I’m sad I missed discussing it with the others but perhaps that’s for the best because it left me an emotional mess when I turned that final page and finished what was a story I hadn’t expected. Read it. Buy it, borrow it, find it, read it.
I was dead, then alive. Weeping, then laughing.
The Impossibility of Us is a beautiful but heart-breaking journey through pain, difference, and love, each moment carefully penned with exquisite emotion demanded by heart’s truth. It is a reminder that we cannot control the world or the pain it delivers, but we can choose to the break the chains it would have us drown in, because beyond the oppressive depths, if you can let go and gasp above the surface, there is an entire world worth living in and it is breathtaking.
Purchase Here: The Impossibility of Us
Similar Recommended Reads: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Meet Katy Upperman!
Katy Upperman is a wife, mama, author, reader, baker, and wanderer. She writes novels for teens and teens at heart. She’s a Washington State University alum (go Cougs!), a country music fanatic, and a makeup stockpiler. She loves the ocean, pedicures, sunshine, Instagram, Dirty Dancing and The Princess Bride, Jelly Bellies, true crime documentaries, and Friday Night Lights.