title: This is My Brain in Love
author: I. W. Gregorio
date: Little, Brown Books; 2020
main characters: Jocelyn “Jos” Wu and Will Domenici
page numbers refer to an advanced copy
Told in two voices, This Is My Brain in Love is essentially your ‘girl meets boy; they fall in like; complications arise and they live happily ever after’ story. The couple meets when Will walks into Jos’s family’s Chinese restaurant to apply for a job. Their fondness for each other develops both quickly and organically. They seem like a natural fit for each other. Will, who attends a different school than Jos, is a high school journalist with a strong business, math and tech acumen that he uses to help revitalize the restaurant. If the two able to increase the store’s profit margin, then Jos and her family will not have to relocate.
To Jos, losing the restaurant would also mean losing her home because she and her family, including her grandmother, live above the restaurant. Jos and her brother are the first generation of their Taiwanese American family to be born in the United States. Her parents and grandmother prefer to communicate in Mandarin and this is reflected in the text. This tends to suggest that the adults cling to values from their homeland, with the assumption that they’re not U.S. progressive values.
You would think then, that the family would be closed off to outsiders, perhaps even to the point of accepting age old biases about racial and ethnic minorities. But, they’re not. The Wu family never mentions or reacts to Will’s race.
Though it is easy to recognize that Will is a person of color, his name throws everyone. This is what happened early in the book when he went for an interview with Mr. Johnson at the hospital where his mom works.
“Mr. Domenici?” he [Mr. Johnson] calls out, staring around the room until his eyes land on a rumpled-looking white man sitting two chairs down from me. I wonder how he can seriously think that man is an intern applicant? The guy looks like he was born in the first Bush administration.
“Yes, hello Mr. Johnson?” I stand up.
Mr. Johnson’s welcoming smile freezes infinitesimally as he gives me a once-over. I rub my wrist and can feel the fluttering of my pulse beat faster. I’ve seen the Look—that little panicked surprise when people realize that William Domenici isn’t a white male like they’ve assumed—so many times in my life you would think that my body would have gotten used to it by now, but nope.” (p. 22)
Will’s mom is a Nigerian American immigrant, his dad is Italian American with many generations in the US. While his parents are progressive, his Nigerian mom’s family is not.
Neither Will nor Jos have a dating history and they enter is cross-racial relationship without batting an eye. Oh, they’re well aware of biases other may have (they’re woke like that) but, they never examine their own biases. Because they have none? Their families never do either. Because they have none? Mr. Wu’s hesitation is that her daughter wants to date, not because Will is of Nigerian descent or because he isn’t Taiwanese American.
Will and Jos are not only ‘woke’, but they have a depth of knowledge in more areas that we would expect from someone their age. Except for the facts that they are both in high school and in their first relationship, the book seems more New Adult than Young Adult. At one point in the book, the characters even remark to other about how much they know about everything! (p. 347)
Something Will knows quite well is anxiety and depression because he was diagnosed as a child. This storyline in particular plays to the author’s strength. In the afterward, Gregorio discusses her own diagnosis and treatment for depression. Her writing here speaks directly to teens, particularly Asian American teens, who may need treatment for mental illness. She tells them “You are not broken. There is no shame in being who you are. When you are ready to speak your truth, there will be people to listen.” (p.374) Gregorio uses both Will and Jos to bring this truth to light.
While there is a significant amount of action in this story, the book actually focuses on Jos and Will’s internal processes as they react to events, situations and each other. This is, after all a story of brains in love.