When I initially purchased Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik, I anticipated a cozy, easy to read novel I would spend the night evading sleep to finish the book. However, only one of these descriptions turned out true; I spent the night after going to Barnes and Noble devouring every word of this intricate novel (it’s a miracle I get any sleep at all considering the way I read). With a plotline focused on self-discovery, LaZebnik successfully delivers an intriguing novel packed tightly with subplots and themes.
The novel follows high-schooler Chloe Mitchell whose 20-year-old sister, Ivy, receives an autism diagnosis. In an attempt to get Ivy out of the house more and incorporate her into the world around her, Chloe comes up with the idea of setting Ivy up with another autistic student, Ethan. However, when Chloe discovers the identity of Ethan’s brother, her excitement turns into apprehension: David Fields, the classmate that drives her insane, primarily takes care of his autistic brother, Ethan. As Chloe and David accompany their siblings on their outings, they realize that Ivy and Ethan are not the only ones who have a lot to learn about themselves.
Things I Should Have Known primarily develops the theme of self-discovery. Nevertheless, multiple sub-themes weave through the main plot including dealing with step-parents, at-school versus at-home personality and how first impressions can mislead one from the truth of the reality.
While the themes were intricately woven throughout the plot, what I enjoyed most about the novel involved the narration. LaZebnik personified Chloe in a relatable manner that made me connect the novel to my personal life. The way Chloe dealt with situations coupled with her unwavering honesty, allowed LaZebnik to evolve both the characters and plot. Chloe handles her role as the primary caretaker of Ivy, while simultaneously maintaining her own everyday life. The way LaZebnik displays Chloe’s emotions felt realistic, with Chloe not always portrayed as the “perfect” sister who never gets angry or frustrated with Ivy. As the plot progresses and Ethan and David enter the scene, readers watch as the four main characters evolve, displayed through the development of the themes and the change in manner of Chloe’s narration.
When I first picked up the novel, my first impression differed from the reality, which can mirror Chloe’s first impression of David and other places (no spoilers here!). As Chloe learns, first impressions that turn out to contradict the reality often pleasantly occur as the best ones. Similarly, my first impression differs from the reality, and I am so glad it does.
As Entertainment Weekly says about this book, the plot, characters and subject matter put together is truly “heartwarming.