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THE WORDS WE KEEP by Erin Stewart Kirkus Star


by Erin Stewart

Pub Date: March 15th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-984848-86-4
Publisher: Delacorte

Following the discovery of her older sister, Alice, self-harming on the bathroom floor, Lily grapples with her own increasingly perilous mental health.

Burdened with an ultrarigid academic schedule and a perfectionist’s mindset, Lily Larkin, a 16-year-old implied White girl, daily fends off pervasive anxiety and intrusive thoughts. For Lily, all her extra hard work means survival: “I can stop my family—and myself—from unraveling.” When she learns that Alice (diagnosed with bipolar disorder) will be returning home after two months of treatment, Lily braces herself for the reappearance of a sister she might not recognize. At school, she reluctantly garners the attention of Micah Mendez, a Mexican American boy hounded by depression and a troubled past. Micah, it seems, knows all about Lily thanks to his time at the same treatment center as Alice. Paired for a school art project, Lily and Micah grow closer, drawing on the power of words to express their truths to each other—and even their peers—in anonymous art installations. Lily, meanwhile, finds it hard to reestablish a relationship with Alice even as false starts send the sisters spiraling into potential calamity. A sprawling, engrossing read, Stewart’s latest succeeds in mapping out the toll of anxiety disorder with scrupulous, cleareyed detail. It’s mostly a hard, messy path for Lily, laden with moments of self-violence and acute tension. Above all, however, there’s an overpowering sense of hope underlined by an achingly sincere message: Speak up and get help if needed.

Indispensably candid.

(author's note, resources) (Fiction. 12-18)