When We Collided

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
When We Collided Book Poster Image
Heartfelt summer romance explores mental illness and grief.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 6 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the symptoms of clinical depression, the difference between depression and grief, and the characteristics of bipolar disorder. There are also some educational notes about fashion, costume design, cooking, and baking.

Positive Messages

Relationships are meant to be an experience (however temporary or long-lasting) that changes both people. It's important for people with mental illness to be honest with themselves about their diagnoses. Caretakers of those with mental illness should ask for help and make sure their loved ones are getting professional support. Siblings should take care of and help one another.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jonah is a caring and loving older brother who makes meals and helps raise his younger siblings while their mother suffers from depression. Same goes for his older sister and brother, Naomi and Silas. Vivi encourages creativity and living life to the fullest, but she also engages in risky behavior and doesn't know when to stop pushing others. Ellie is a wonderful family friend to the Daniels clan, as is her father, Felix.


An accident leaves a character seriously injured. Jonah and his siblings grieve their father's sudden death, which is described.


Fade-to-black sex scenes between teen characters. Description of hypersexual behavior by a character with bipolar disorder. Vivi jokes about body parts being "nothing I haven't seen before" and makes references to performing sexual acts. A couple uses protection during sex. A young woman mentions she doesn't know who her father is and makes references to her single mother's sexual history. Teens go skinny-dipping at a bonfire party.


Occasional strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," and so on.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink beer at a party. Jonah mentions that he's smoked weed before but doesn't anymore. Vivi talks to a guy in town who's known for dealing pot.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that When We Collided is Emery Lord's third contemporary realistic novel -- a summer romance between two teens in a small California beach town struggling with mental illness and grief. Unlike her first two romances, this story focuses on a girl with bipolar disorder and a boy dealing with the death of his father and his widowed mother's depression. The story explores these mature themes as well as detailed symptoms of bipolar disorder such as impulsivity, reckless overspending, hypersexuality, unusually high energy, inability to concentrate, and insomnia. There's occasional strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole") and descriptions of sexual behavior/intimacy, but most of it is fade-to-black. The author provides resources and a launching point to discuss mental illness with teen readers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byemma321 May 7, 2020
Teen, 15 years old Written byliteraturelover10 December 29, 2020

My favorite book in the world

This is an incredible book and had me crying my eyes out by the end. I became so emotionally drawn to each character and their story, and how it is their unique... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byTheBookwormThatIAm December 29, 2020

It Was Okay

When We Collided is about a girl, Vivi, who suffers from bipolar disorder, and a guy, Jonah, who is trying really hard to keep his family of six together after... Continue reading

What's the story?

WHEN WE COLLIDED is a summer romance between two teens dealing with different kinds of emotional issues. Vivi is the new girl in a small beach town for the summer; she has bipolar disorder but has decided to stop taking her medication and not discuss her diagnosis with anyone. One day at her custom pottery job, she meets Jonah, a handsome Verona Cove townie who's there with his adorable little sister, Leah. Vivi is immediately attracted to Jonah and considers him the "ring to her Frodo"; she will purse him. And with her Marilyn Monroe-platinum curls, amazing figure, and charisma, it's no surprise that Jonah is drawn to her. Except Jonah is no casual fling. He's one of three grieving older siblings in charge of three younger siblings while their widowed mother suffers debilitating clinical depression. For a while, Jonah adores having Vivi be part of his chaotic home life. But as their romance speeds along, it's increasingly clear to Jonah that there's something off about Vivi's nonstop energy, demands for physical intimacy, and startling mood swings.

Is it any good?

This novel may seem like a typical summer romance, but it's actually a substantive if uneven exploration of how two seemingly broken teens fall in love despite their struggles. Although it provides two points of view, it's Vivi's story that brings it to life, however reckless and risky her decisions might be to most readers. The portrayal of her mania hits all the symptoms on a checklist, but occasionally she's depicted as a bit too stereotypically magical to seem genuine. And the romance suffers, albeit intentionally, from her self-absorbed need to do everything she wants whenever she wants it -- including physical intimacy. Balancing Vivi's lack of impulse control is sweet, practical, perpetually concerned Jonah, who falls hard for this "whirling dervish" of a girl but knows deep down that there's something a little too much, too intensely hot or cold, about Vivi's behavior.

One of the best aspects of When We Collided is Lord's depiction of Jonah's large, six-sibling family. While Vivi is an only child (of which there are a disproportionate number in young adult literature), the Daniels clan is three teens/young adults (Jonah is the third child) and three kids under the age of 11. The love and chaos and energy the siblings bring to the story are much more authentic than Vivi's ability to fix (or fix up) everything and everyone around her except herself. Instead, she hurts herself by not accepting her diagnosis. Well written and emotional, When We Collided is a worthy read that proves a great conversation starter, but the love story feels too rushed, too much like "instalove," to prove as memorable as Lord's first two romances.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how When We Collided depicts mental illness and grief. What do you learn about the different kinds of mental illness and how they affect people and those around them?

  • Are any characters in the book role models? Who, and why?

  • This is not your typical romance, but there is definitely sex in the story. Is Jonah and Vivi's sexual relationship healthy? Why is it noteworthy that she's much more experienced than he is?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of grief and romance

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