You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

Rating: 9/10



A lot of people have been raving about this book since its release in June, 2020. The immensely talented Roxanne Gay called it one of her favorite reads of 2020 and said this - “Hypnotically meandering narrative structure. Deeply compelling protagonist. Lovely sentences. Sexy, in it's own way.” That’s a raving review coming from one of the most awesome writers out there. This read was also featured in Amerie’s Book Club for her July 2020 pick. I’d love to thank Catapult Books for sending me this absolutely gorgeous book for my reviews. Catapult Books are definitely one of my fav book publishers, I’ve always loved their website and their choice of books. I also adored the size of the hardcover of this book, it was such a satisfying sized book to hold and to read. Love the title and cover a lot! You Exist Too Much...very intriguing.


There were quite a few settings in this book that range mostly in the Middle-East - Jordan, Nablus, Egypt, Lebanon and then the States in New York City, Washington DC, even Italy at one point.


Plot:


The scene opens on a hot day in Bethlehem as we follow a 12 year old unnamed, Palestinian-American girl who is being yelled at by a group of men outside the church of Nativity. She had exposed legs which doesn’t bode well in a biblical city, their judgement will echo on through her adolescence. When our narrator finally admits to her mother that she is queer, her mother’s response only intensifies a sense of shame: “You exist too much,” she tells her daughter.


Told in vignettes that flash between various countries and cities, we follow the protagonist from a blushing adolescence to an aspiring writer and sought after DJ. In Brooklyn, she moves in with her first serious girlfriend and tries to be content in their stable relationship. But soon after her desires and longings that were hidden during her teenage years explode out into reckless and romantic encounters with both men and women. Her self destructive behavior eventually leads her to an unconventional treatment center called ‘The Ledge’ where she is diagnosed with a’ Love Addiction.’ It is in this closed society that she starts to consider her own internal traumas and the places that have shaped the person that she is today.


You Exist Too Much is a captivating story charting two of our most intense longings―for love, and a place to call home.


My Review:


It was interesting reading a book where we didn’t know the main character’s name. I actually hadn’t noticed that fact at all till about halfway through the book! That’s how interesting this book was. I was completely intrigued by the story and her perspective that I didn’t notice that we never actually know what her name is. What I found to be amazing about this book is that I literary had no idea what each page would bring, it was completely unpredictable and I had no way of guessing where the story was going. A book rarely does that to me so I have to give props to the author for that.


This is one of the coolest, and sharpest books I’ve read in a while. It was completely refreshing especially because you don’t come across many books where the protagonist is a bisexual, half Arab, half American 30-ish year old woman. It was an interesting and super cool book.


We follow the un-named character through a series of montages all varying in different time periods and locations. Weirdly enough, you were never really confused about where and what age the character was. I have to give a lot of respect to the author for this. She knew how to keep you hooked the entire way through without any confusion. Quite tricky to do that.


There were many interesting aspects going on in this book and with this character. She comes from a very strict background, her mother is completely set in her ways, and I actually found her to be quite abusive towards our main character. To grow up in a country where women are basically seen in such a narrow perspective is quite a lot to deal with, then on top of that she’s bisexual and sort of struggles with coming out to her own family in fear of what the judgement or repercussions will be. To add to all of this, the main character then has her own issues state-side she deals with anorexia, and she has a ‘Love Addiction’. I don’t think I actually knew what that was before reading this book! Learned something new here. Our girl is a pretty self-destructive character. it’s strange, you feel for her and you want to sit her down and have an intervention! Poor thing. I kept wondering throughout this book that if she had grown up with more supportive or less judgmental parents if she would have turned out differently.


This wasn’t a coming out story, I didn’t think so anyways, it was more a self destructive, behavioral story. Also the relationship that she has with her mother was extremely exhausting and intense. She was always looking to please her mother and to get her approval, so much so that she ends up not truly being her authentic self around her. I also quite liked the cultural dynamics too, the strong religious background she grew up in, and her very contemporary life that she has in New York City. Very millennial. Not so much an immigrant story but more about past experiences, family and identity. Very interesting narrative.


I personally enjoyed the story itself and the writing of this book a lot. It was something new and interesting, also quite sultry and messy! I actually liked that the story was quite realistic and it wasn’t a ‘happy’ story at all. There were some highs and some lows for sure and I found that there were also some silver linings, but yeah all in all it was a really interesting read. I think people will either love this book, or not get into it at all. Some may find the story depressing or too self obsessed.


Here is one of my favorite lines from this book - it mentions the title of the book in quite a sad and remarkable way.

Page 134:


“I sniffled and snorted and tried to suck back snort and tears, which only made me cry harder. I’m aware I can be exhausting--”you exist too much,” my mother often told me.”

You Exist Too Much is a story about sexual identity, it’s about self acceptance, it’s a self reflective story about the impact of being brought up in different cultures and having to deal with the repercussions of the different borders. It deals with reckless, self destructive behavior, addictions, finding love, and the impact of family support or lack of. It's about complicated mother and daughter relationships as well. An absolutely biting, complex, unapologetic and brilliant read.


Song Pick:


I kind of wanted a song that was loud, fun and felt like it was in the millennial age bracket. Also, our main character is a DJ so I knew I wanted a sort of trashy song that you can get drunk to dancing all night with. I chose an absolute banger by Kesha. I also always feel like Ke$ha is a bit of a messy person, almost like our character. I chose her super fun and loud track, ‘Your Love is my Drug’. Our main character has a love addiction so there ya go. A fun, reckless, and bangin 'tune. Just felt right!



Genre: Contemporary Fiction | LGBTQ+

Publication Date: June 9, 2020

Page: 272 Pages (Hardcover)

Publisher: Catapult










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