I’ve been waiting for this particular collection of essays to come out ever since I read the very first essay about a month ago in this preview. And This Is Really Happening really lived up to the hype I’d created in my mind. The writing was just as laid-back, wise, heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny as I’d remembered.
In this book Erin Chack recounts everything from meeting her soulmate at age 14 to her first chemotherapy session at age 19 to what really goes on behind the scenes at a major Internet media company.
She authentically captures the agony and the ecstasy of the millennial experience, whether it’s her first kiss (“Sean’s tongue! In my mouth! Slippery and wet like a slug in the rain.”) or her struggles with anxiety (“When people throw caution to the wind, I am stuck imagining the poor soul who has to break his back sweeping caution into a dustpan”).
And my favorite essays remain to be the first one, where she recounts the story of telling her friends she has cancer. It was so damn poignant yet Chack still managed to insert some of her whip-smart humor. And In “BURY ME WITH POISON IVY,” when she tells the story of how she met her boyfriend, Sean, in school over a decade ago. It was quiet and intimate and so similar to an actual YA novel because the author excels at creating an authentic teen voice. I loved it.
But my attention was held in particular by the sharp insights on every page. We have a broad range of essays in this collection: from going on a ten-thousand-mile trip and getting nearly attacked by a bear towards the end, crappy jobs at the age of ten and then the privilege of working at BuzzFeed, losing her hair because of chemotherapy, meeting her best friend while studying abroad in London, the stress of high school, getting pranked as hell on April Fools, “being frustrated with the version of cancer we see in books and movies” (!!!!) and The Fault in Our Stars, on periods and switching to menstrual cups, and a healthy dose of mortality discussion to top it all off.
The innovative and self-aware remarks had me enchanted from start to finish. And I also loved those inside scoops we got on her workplace:
“I saw John Green once when he came to BuzzFeed to be interviewed for a profile. I can always tell how beloved a celebrity guest is by counting how many BuzzFeed employees pretend to make coffee when he or she visits. The way the office is set up, it’s easiest to catch a glimpse of the person by taking a long, ambling route to the canteen. A lot of people made coffee that day.”
But the piece that stuck with me most was this next one on Chack’s anxiety throughout high school:
“There were so, so many rules about where I was allowed to be and at what time. I was a compulsively good student, but the stress of keeping my grades up ate away at me until I started having panic attacks so violent it felt like I was leaving my body and watching myself drown from across the room. When I finally got to leave the physical confines of school at the end of the day, I went home to mountains of homework. On the weekends, there were projects and reading assignments and studying. There was always studying. That whole year I felt like someone was holding my nostrils to the surface of a murky pond and I could only breathe when I concentrated very hard. One false move and my lungs would fill with water.”
I think about this a lot.
Overall, the essays in This Is Really Happening were everything I’d hoped for: smart, conversational and powerful… Exactly what I look for in nonfiction collections.