Carry the Ocean, by Heidi Cullinan (The Roosevelt, Book 1)
Publisher: Samhain Publishing (April 7, 2015)
Page Count: 268 pages
Genre: Gay (M/M) Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5
Warnings: attempted suicide (highlight to see)
Summary: 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.
My Thoughts: A stunningly profound and engaging novel about finding your way and struggling to accept that what makes you different doesn’t make you less. With frank and unflinching looks into the darkness of mental illness, and a gorgeous atypical relationship that redefines what romance means, Cullinan’s Carry the Ocean is an exceptional piece of story-telling.
Jeremey is suffering under the weight of two debilitating mental illnesses; he has Major Depressive Disorder, which has made him hypersensitive to the world around him, and clinical anxiety, which results in panic attacks that leave him wrecked. He’s exhausted, and his family’s refusal to accept his diagnoses pushes him further into the darkness. But when he meets Emmett, a genius on the autism spectrum, Emmett’s straightforward way of speaking and easy acceptance of Jeremey’s behavior is a relief.
my emotions feel loud and big. its hard for me to keep hold of them. they weigh me down. make me heavy and tired and overwhelmed. sometimes I feel like everyone else is carrying a bucket of water but I’m trying to carry an ocean. its very hard. sometimes I would rather not carry my ocean, even if it meant I couldn’t be alive…
…I want you to fight too, Jeremey. I want us to carry our oceans together. (ePub pg. 86-87)
As the friendship between Emmett and Jeremey grows, so too do the romantic feelings. But a relationship isn’t easy when the outside world sees you as an “embarrassment” and a “retard”. When Jeremey’s mental illness takes a turn for the worse, Emmett wants only to help him, first by assisting Jeremey in finding “modifications”– ways he can adapt to his surroundings so that his depression and anxiety don’t overwhelm him– and then by finding them a place to belong: the Roosevelt House, a communal living space for people who need a bit of extra help once in a while.
The alternating perspectives are phenomenally written. Jeremey’s chapters give insight into what it’s like to live every day inside a glass dome, where too much stimuli can trigger an episode. Emmett’s chapters are told in his unambiguous and often brunt voice, breaking down every interaction and sentence in a way that helps him understand those around him.
It’s like Elwood Blues says: everybody needs somebody to love. I’m an everybody. I get a somebody.
In the end, this wasn’t a story about two boys who are different from the rest of the world. It was a story about two boys finding their balance, and finding a place where they can belong. It wasn’t about finding a cure for mental illness, but instead about accepting the illness for what it is and finding “modifications” and ways to work around it.
After reading Lonely Hearts by the same author, I really wanted to see more m/m romance that deals with depression and with unconventional relationships, and I’m glad that I found this novel. I think Cullinan’s writing is among the best in the genre, and I think Carry the Ocean really sets the bar for future m/m romance works!
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