By Nora Lowe
Last month’s book at the North Castle Public Library book club, dubbed “Overbooked” by its members, was Farah Naz Rishi’s I Hope You Get This Message.
The beautifully crafted novel includes chapters devoted to uniquely different characters. It was very interesting to see how their stories develop individually, which makes the climax of the plot when the characters finally cross paths, all the more exciting. This sense of dramatic irony is truly what allows Rishi’s book to be successful. The tale follows the stories of Cate, Jesse, and Adeem. These dynamic characters are all teens living in the same society, but leading vastly different lives. The one thing they have in common is that they have all suffered in some way.
Cate’s life is consumed with caring for her mother, who has schizophrenia. Day to day life pains Adeem, since his sister ran away from home after coming out to her conservative Muslim family. Jesse suffers from the debt his father left behind when he died. The occasion that brings them all together, however, is a shared circumstance: the world might end in seven days. Rishi’s novel predominantly has science fiction incorporated into it. It is very character-driven, with each of the protagonists reacting to the end of the world through their own lens, while also prompting the reader to ponder, and ask themselves, “What would I do if the world was ending?” While this question used to seem lofty and unimportant, given the current situation, it has the capacity to strike a chord with readers, which might help to resolve and verbalize some of our quarantine-related feelings right now.
Tanya Postian, a sophomore and member of the book club, noted that “Using three different perspectives allows the author to not only keep the plot moving quickly, but also to explore how each character reacts differently to the same situation.” She continues that this literary decision to examine each of their stories individually contributes to the overall dramatic impact of the apocalyptic event, “because each of the three characters have their own backstories and motivations…, each prioritize differently what their last actions on earth would be which keeps the plot interesting and unique.”
In the light of news that aliens from a planet called Alma will decide the fate of humanity within the week, the world erupts into chaos, and Rishi’s portrayal of society’s reaction is directed towards exploring the true character of human beings. One theme that is examined is whether it is better to cling to hope even in dire situations, or if it is better to relinquish hope altogether and avoid disillusionment when tragedy does strike.
One of the book’s strengths was a perfect balance between the factor of Earth’s impending destruction, with multiple thematic discussions and character dynamics. Rishi devotes herself to a challenging combination of subject matter, because if she focuses too much on the alien/science-fictional aspect of the story, then she risks the chance of the novel becoming too cliche. On the other hand, if she disregards the alien portion of the plot altogether, then there is a gaping hole in the storyline. Rishi skillfully focuses both on the coming of age struggles that the main characters face, while also providing occasional background on the continuous inter-galactic threat.
One of the interesting choices that Rishi makes, is to include excerpts from the alien trials or “deliberations” as they’re called in the novel. These trials were intended to decide the fate of the human species. Edith Bachmann, another sophomore member of Overbooked, comments that she “liked that she [the author] included the deliberations from the alien perspective. It was really interesting to get that insight. However, I would have liked to see some more character development. I thought that in some parts it lacked the urgency it needed.” In other words, the alien threat is weirdly overbearing in the plot, while also sometimes neglected in a way.
I Hope You Get This Message is ideal for audiences who are engaged readers, in that they are eager to put together pieces of the plot themselves that are not explicitly made clear by the author. It is also important to be able to mentally juggle many moving parts because the attention to detail is an important tool that Rishi uses to weave her storylines together. Ultimately, Rishi weaves together a complicated story with elements such as multiple storylines, modern-day struggles like LGBTQ issues, and science fiction elements to create a novel that prompts the reader to question their own decisions.