Phoebe Unfired by Amalie Jahn has to be one of the most wholesome, heartwarming stories about friendship, family, love and overcoming trauma. It is one of those books you know is going to be an instant hit the moment you start reading, and I have no doubt it is going to be one of my favorite books of 2021 already.
Set in a post-COVID world, the story follows Phoebe as she struggles to make friends while battling her germaphobia. Our poor girl developed the phobia after infecting her younger brother with Covid-19 and nearly losing him as a result. The book revolves around her, and her 64-year-old best friend Walter who also suffers from general anxiety disorder, and how the two of them help each other overcome their demons and have some semblance of a normal life.
Sixteen-year-old Phoebe Benson wasn’t always germophobic. There was a time she didn’t worry obsessively about rogue pathogens lurking on every surface, lying in wait to contaminate her.
But that was before her brother Toby’s premature birth left him with underdeveloped lungs. Before she got Covid and infected him, putting his already fragile life in danger.
To protect Toby’s health in the years that follow, Phoebe dedicates herself to pathogen avoidance, refusing to touch any potential sources of contamination—handrails, doorknobs, vending machine buttons, and even other people—leading to an unintended life of seclusion. By the time she reaches high school, her only sources of respite are pottery class and her friendship with Walter, the elderly owner of the used bookstore where she works part-time.
Now Walter’s devised a plan to help Phoebe overcome her anxiety, and she must decide whether to continue isolating herself or risk everything initiating a friendship with the charming subway busker she can’t help but want to touch.
Trigger Warnings: anxiety disorder, trauma, mental health death (mentioned)
There is so much to love about this book, and I think it takes a really skilled and brilliant writer to be able to tackle the subject of anxiety disorder as effortlessly Amalie Jahn did. Throw in a few spoonful of wholesome friendship, a sprinkle of the sweetest teen romance I have ever read, and a heaping pile of positive affirmations, and you get Phoebe Unfired. The most uplifting young adult novel about friendship, love and trying to move past your fears.
Here are a few reasons why you should read Phoebe Unfired by Amalie Jahn. (or skip to the quick bullet review here if you want).
1. Authentic Representation Of Anxiety Disorders
The representation of mental health in this book was absolutely spot on. I loved how the writer handled such a delicate topic with nuance and sensitivity. She makes it very easy for the reader to not only sympathize with Phoebe and other characters with mental health issues, but she also makes you empathize with them and helps you see the world from their perspective.
I loved the fact that she does not show any one-size-fits-all solution, and I loved how the romance in the book does not take the spotlight away from the main story, which is Phoebe’s personal struggle with her phobia. And this brings me to the second reason why you should read Phoebe Unfired: the sweet, wholesome romance that acts more like a subplot instead of stealing the whole show.
2. A Sweet, Wholesome Love Story
I will admit, that when I first picked up this book, I was a bit concerned that the love interest will be a typical knight in shining armor who magically cures our protagonist’s mental health issues, but that was not the case at all.
Far from it, the love interest is simply one of the sweetest fictional characters I have ever had a crush on. Throughout the story, he constantly supports Phoebe and gives her the motivation to continue to work on overcoming her fears. He shows Phoebe, and the readers by extension, that there is no shame in needing special accommodations. He shows her that her anxiety does not make her a burden because when we love someone, we always make compromises for them without a second thought.
2. Beautiful & Realistic Portrayal Of Family And Friendships
Another thing that I really loved about this book was the family dynamics. In many young adult books, we barely see the family being actually present in our protagonist’s life. But in Phoebe’s life, her family plays a big, active role, which was both realistic and sweet to see because we were able to see how Phoebe’s anxiety disorder affects them all as a unit.
I loved how supportive her parents were, and at the same time, I noticed their subtle but obvious willingness to put Phoebe’s life on hold if it meant keeping their other child safe. It is unfair, yes, but parents are not perfect and it was nice to see the author acknowledging that.
The bond between Phoebe and her brother was also just too sweet, and it broke my heart to see how her disorder would cause rifts between them occasionally.
And of course, the relationship between Phoebe and Walter is yet another highlight of this book. It seems unlikely that a 64-year-old man and a teenager can become best friends, but Amalie Jahn shows us anything is possible when two people show compassion and understanding towards each other.
This goes for all the supportive characters too; they were well-developed and played an active role in the plot and in helping Phoebe’s overall character growth too.
My only issue with this book perhaps is that it is never clear what Phoebe’s ethnicity is.
The reason why I am even bringing it up is because the writer clearly states that the love interest is a person of color, Walter is Jewish, two of the supporting characters are black…but when it comes to Phoebe, we can only guess that she is Asian based on the kind of food her mother is cooking.
I felt like this was a huge missed opportunity to clearly show some Asian representation. Especially because the writer specifically showed us that they normally eat Asian food for dinner, so it really did not make sense to me why she did not make Phoebe’s race clearer.
All in all, this book is a MUST READ you guys, especially if you want a lovely, hopeful story about healing and recovery. The ending was very realistic, and it will leave you with warm fuzzy feelings and the hope that things can get better, if you keep on trying to overcome your demons.
Quick Review: Phoebe Unfired By Amalie Jahn
To sum it up, here are three reasons why you should read Phoebe Unfired by Amalie Jahn
The authentic portrayal of anxiety disorder: For any one who wants to read a book that tackles anxiety disorders the right way, with nuance and empathy, this is the book for you. If you want to read about what it’s like to struggle to have a normal life while battling with mental health issues, then I would highly recommend this book.
The beautifully written romance: If you are a sucker for boys who are super sweet and helps you become a better version of yourself, then you will love the romance in Phoebe Unfired.
The wholesome friendship between the characters: Nothing beats the way the authors developed the characters and showed us the good and the ugly in their relationships with each other. Phoebe Unfired beautifully shows us how anxiety disorders affects our relationships with those we love the most.
That wraps up my review of Phoebe Unfired by Amalie Jahn. The book comes out on 15th June 2021; and I would definitely recommend you to get it when it hits the shelves.
Disclaimer: I received a free Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. Receiving a free copy does not guarantee a good review; and all thoughts and opinions here are completely my own. Thank you BooksGoSocial and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this book.