Book Review: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily

Life, Reading / Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Hi Friends,

Maybe you haven’t heard, but here in Boston we are getting absolutely pummeled by a series of Nor’Easters. Yesterday we had a full-on Blizzard, which forced me indoors all day, except for a 1-hour shoveling shift in the evening. When all was said and done, we got about 15.5 inches of snow in my area…which is actually not so bad compared to other towns west of here.

Since I’m a teacher, I’ve had snow days both yesterday and today. Being stuck inside with very little to do is not exactly my favorite thing, but a good book made it a whole lot better!

A few months ago I heard about an upcoming young adult novel with a narrator with ADHD. As a special educator, I’m always looking for ways to get inside my student’s minds. ADD/ADHD can be an especially challenging impairment to work with as a teacher, because students who struggle with these sorts of challenges are often the most intelligent and charismatic in the class. So it’s frustrating when they never seem to have their belongings and never seem to turn work in on time, no matter how many reminders or checklists I make for them.

The novel begins with 16-year-old Lily, who had ADHD and Dyslexia, accidentally breaking a retractible wall at school. She’s sent to the office by the kind of non-understanding teacher I have trouble working with, and meets Abelard. Abelard had been on the other side of the retractible wall and is half responsible for breaking it. He is also very handsome, and has high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder. Their chemistry is immediate, and a teenage love story ensues. But that isn’t the only thing going on in this novel.

Lily has trouble in school; impulse control and auditory processing are challenging for her, and the medications her mother wants her to take often leave her feeling hopeless. As an educator, I found the passages where Lily is struggling to comprehend directions being given to her by adults in her life most interesting. Laura Creedle, the author, has ADHD, and keeps a close first-person narration throughout the novel. So when Lily is being told what to do by her teachers and doctors, she often hears gibberish. As such, Creedle intermittently replaces words of dialogue with gibberish. in Chapter 1, a teacher tells Lily “You’ll note, Miss Ryan, that I have filled out a Skrellnetch form for you. Your mother will have to sign the kerblig and return it to the main office before you can be burn to clabs.” Lily knows that she is in trouble, and she knows that asking for her teacher to repeat the directions will bring embarrassment and possibly more punishment. She’s in an impossible situation, and this made me really reflect on my expectations for my students and how I can accomodate their individual needs more.

Lily and Abelard bond over a shared love of medieval literature and a mutual feeling of not fitting in. Where Lily is impulsive and occasionally thoughtless, Abelard is unfailingly rigid and routine-based. Both Lily and Abelard struggle to fit romance into their already abnormal, puzzle-like realities. Lily has a complicated home-life, with a mostly-absent but beloved dad, a super-smart little sister, and a mother who is always looking for a fix for her oldest’s problems. On the other hand, Abelard has a super stable family who has supported him a little too much over the years.

Things get complicated when Lily’s mother finds a surgical method of possibly curing her ADHD, and Abelard is accepted to a prestigious prep school hundreds of miles away. Lily feels apprehensive about the surgery, and is being pushed in opposite directions by her friends and family members. Meanwhile, she lies to Abelard and breaks up with him so that he’ll go to his new school, rather than passing up his acceptance to stay in Austin with her. Lily is stuck in this terrible spot of feeling like a failure no matter what she does, and although some of her teenager-y impulsive decisions were annoying to read from an adult perspective, I really felt for this girl.

This novel does for ADHD what Turtles All The Way Down did for OCD; it shares the real, first-person experience of living with a disability. It walks you step-by-step through what a day can be like for someone truly impacted by these challenges. I thought Creedle’s descriptions of both ADHD and Autism Spectrum symptoms were really spot-on. And overall her narrative was enjoyable and interesting to read.

My one qualm was with the ending. I didn’t love it. I loved parts of it. But I didn’t like the message it was suggesting. I don’t want to give it away, but I kind of wanted it to have a similar ending to Turtles All The Way Down, where it dives into the sometimes heartbreaking but very real reality of long-term mental health challenges. But I didn’t get that, and I really, really wanted it.

Overall, I’d give this book a 4.5 out of 5. It drew me in immediately, it covers topics that need to be covered, and it did a great job portraying adults (which I feel is important in YA literature) I think if you are a teacher, this is worth a read just for the perspective it gives. I thought it would be more of a romance, based on the title, but that actually didn’t take up a whole lot of the plot time. In reality this is a coming of age story from a unique perspective that hasn’t really been covered before. So if you’re into that kind of thing, pick up a copy and get reading.

2 Replies to “Book Review: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily”

  1. I’m definitely going to add this to my reading list. It sounds really interesting. It kind of reminds me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime which I loved in high school.

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