Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 14, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
A Bank Street Best Book of the Year!
Told in dual narrative, This Is My Brain in Love is a stunning YA contemporary romance, exploring mental health, race, and, ultimately self-acceptance, for fans of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Emergency Contact.
Then Jocelyn's father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it's up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).
What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.
This Is My Brain on Bankruptcy
Irony: The year I decide that central New York isn’t a total dump after all, my dad finally admits that it was a mistake to move here.
It’s one of the rare days that my whole family gets to spend together. Usually my parents trade off running the register downstairs in the restaurant, because they’re incapable of trusting anyone else to do it, but when our water main breaks in the middle of the lunch rush, we can’t get a plumber to come in until dinnertime.
My brother and I greet the news like it’s a snow day. Family meal! Amah, our grandma, won’t be doing prep work, so she can help Alan with his algebra! We won’t need to help with cleanup after we’ve finished our homework, so maybe I’ll finally have time to work on the screenplay I’m writing with Priya!
The excitement dims pretty quickly, though, when I see that my mom’s almost at the point of tears when she writes the CLOSE FOR REPAIR sign that I edit to read CLOSED FOR REPAIRS.
I start to get really worried when I watch my dad pour Pepto-Bismol for his dinner instead of his usual chrysanthemum tea, so I pay more attention than usual to the heated conversation my parents have in their bedroom. I basically speak Mandarin at the third-grade level, never really having applied myself at the Mohawk Valley Chinese Association’s weekly language school, but even I can pick out the words “expensive” and “no money” and “back to New York City.”
After a long phone call, my dad finally sits down at the dinner table. It’s littered with the usual hodgepodge of microwaved kitchen leftovers. The moo shu pork looks particularly deflated.
My mom looks at him expectantly, almost hopefully. He nods and looks at the rest of us. Amah and I look at him, but my brother is too busy stuffing his face with a day-old egg roll to actually notice that my dad’s joined us.
“Alan,” my dad says sharply. He waits for Alan’s five-second attention span to focus before he says, “Second Uncle says manager at Queens branch of his restaurant go back to China. May be time to go back to the city.”
The silence after his announcement is suffocating, like someone’s hoovered away all the life in the room. Living over a restaurant, you get used to a constant soundtrack of activity underlying your life. There’s always the sound of chopping, or the clank of a wok banging against a stove, or someone shouting or cursing in Chinese.
My amah is the first one to make a sound. It’s a soft, noncommittal hum. Two notes, questioning, neither approving nor disapproving.
Alan, still chewing, manages only a shrug and a “Huh,” which makes no sense because he’s the one who’s spent the majority of his life here.
So it’s up to me to say loudly, “No.” Because we can’t move. Not now, after I’ve found an actual bubble tea place in this godforsaken backwater. Not now, when I’ve finally got a chance to take a film class at the local college. Not now, when I’ve painstakingly identified a group of people I can tolerate as friends, and even found a best friend.
My mom’s looking down at her hands, and my dad’s glaring at me, so I elaborate. “Dad, please say you’re kidding. I’ve literally spent the last six years of my life complaining about moving to central New York, and you want to give up the restaurant now?”
My dad bristles at my tone (I swear, there are actual hairs at the crown of his head that stick up when he’s agitated). Alan’s eyes dart back and forth between my dad and me. With his cheeks still full of food, he looks like a squirrel watching a tennis match.
“Xiao Jia” is all he says, his voice low and warning.
I back down and try a different tack. “But… what about the schools? They’re amazing. You know I’m already set up to take a college class in the fall. And the restaurant has a following now.” Not a big one, but there are definitely regulars. “What if Alan takes over my deliveries so I can work the counter more and we, like, start a Facebook account or something. For free advertising. Check-ins, you know. It’s a thing.”
“Why are you only thinking of this now?” Dad asks. “You have been working at restaurant for forever, and never do no thing.” The worry lines on his forehead have morphed from frustration into suspicion. It’s a subtle shift, but a familiar one.
I don’t say: “Because the place sucks the soul out of the living.”
Instead I say: “I didn’t realize how desperate things were. I thought we were doing okay.” Looking back, I can see the signs. When Mr. Chen went back to Kaohsiung to be with his family, we never replaced him. My mom worked double shifts instead, and my dad started to do his accounting and ordering at the restaurant so he could lend a hand when things got busy. Suddenly a lot of little things make sense: why my mom would scold me when I’d leave the light on after leaving a room, why Alan couldn’t go on his sixth-grade field trip to Great Adventure, why they canceled our Netflix subscription so I had to “borrow” Priya’s log-in information to feed my prestige TV and film addiction.
“Has this been going on for years?” I ask my dad, horrified.
His bowed head, and his silence, are my answer.
A few years ago, there was a 5.0 earthquake on the East Coast, with its epicenter in northeastern Pennsylvania. It was a pretty big deal and caused some minor property damage (coming from the West Coast, of course, Priya rolled her eyes and sent out a meme about lawn chairs being knocked over). I’ll never forget how my body felt in that brief moment of shift: paralyzed yet at the same time pushed by an outside force terrifyingly beyond my control.
I feel the same sensation right now. And I think: This is it. This is the “Nothing Is the Same Anymore” trope.
When I started hanging out with Priya and really started getting into film—not just watching movies, but analyzing them—it was kind of a buzzkill to realize that so many of the movies that gave me joy as a kid were actually pretty formulaic. Priya and I would have “Name That Trope” movie nights during freshman year (I usually won, because her parents majorly limited her screen time, whereas mine were so busy with the restaurant I could usually sneak in some TV with my amah). But as our game evolved from a joke into a way of seeing life, I realized that tropes are more than just clichés. They’re neither good nor bad. They simply are, like earlobes and Winnie-the-Pooh. They’re a reminder that all stories are cut from the same cloth, with patterns that are recognizable, even when they’re unique and surprising. Seeing these patterns helps us make sense of the world, helps give us a framework for navigating what might come next.
What comes next for me is the “Big First Choice” trope. Am I going to go gentle into that good night, or am I going to be dragged kicking and screaming from the life I’ve finally built for myself?
Come on, like you really had to ask.
I start off with appealing to my dad’s natural tightwad tendencies. “You can’t really want to move back to New York. Didn’t you mention last week that Second Uncle’s parking space costs more than our rent?” We left the city when I was pretty young, but I remember him constantly complaining about the traffic, the rude customers, and how Second Uncle lorded over him. “Where would we live? Alan and I are too old to sleep in the same bedroom anymore.”
“You think I haven’t think of this?” my dad grits out. “You think you so smart?”
“Aiya, Baba,” my mom murmurs, putting a hand on my dad’s arm before things escalate. “Ta xiang bangzhu ni.”
Dad’s nostrils flare as he takes a deep breath, and he rubs his hand over his eyes.
I regroup and try a different approach. “Baba. Mom’s right. I’m sorry I haven’t been more involved in the restaurant. I just want to help. Let me look at the numbers, brainstorm some strategy—that commerce elective you made me take has got to be worth something, right?”
Even as I say it, I get the sinking feeling that my dad’s right. It’s arrogant for me to imagine that I can swoop in with ideas from a high school Intro to Business class and turn around a restaurant that’s been floundering for years. It’s a measure of how desperate the situation is that my dad just throws up his hands and mutters, “Haoba, suibian ni,” which is the equivalent of “Fine, try it your way.”
I take it as a win. For now.
This Is My Brain on Summer Vacation
It’s the last day before summer vacation, and I may be the only one at St. Agnes High School who’s apprehensive about it. The twenty-four-hour news cycle of my mind is on overload. Manny is practically bouncing off the walls, high-fiving all his buddies from the soccer team and yelling “T minus one, baby!” He’s got a sweet gig at Amazing Stories, the local comic book store, so he’s essentially going to get paid for sitting around reading manga all day. Javier’s floating through the hallway wearing his shades and noise-canceling headphones, with a particular spring to his lanky step, telling everyone who will listen about the internship our computer science teacher helped him get at ConMed. If our local Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter were to see them, they’d put Javier and Manny into an ad depicting people who are “high on life,” right next to their retro THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS posters where the subject’s neurons are eggs cooking in a pan—meant to represent the perils of substance abuse.
I’m the only one of my friends who doesn’t have a headline, and the worst thing about it is that I have only myself to blame.
My anxiety only ratchets up when Javier and I walk into the media studies studio, which feels strange because for the past ten months it’s been my favorite place at St. Agnes. When I enter the classroom, Mr. Evans grins up at us like we’re prodigal sons returning.
“Will! Javi! Grab your chairs. I’m getting ready to give out my superlatives.” About a decade ago, St. Agnes’s staff got rid of yearbook polls after a voting scandal led the administration to proclaim that “all our students are likely to succeed, so there is no value in suggesting that popularity can predict future achievement.” That didn’t stop Mr. Evans from making his own superlatives list as a way to announce next year’s editorial staff for the Spartan.
When I go to collect a chair from the bank of computers lining the room, it slips from my sweaty fingers, making an ungodly clatter. In my mind, I’m already making up my own superlative: William Obinna Domenici, Most Likely to Have Clammy Hands. No one seems to notice the racket, but my face still burns as I take my seat.
Mr. Evans perches himself on the edge of his desk, pushes up his horn-rimmed glasses, and thanks us all for a fantastic year. “You all should pat yourselves on the back. Online clicks were up ten percent, and we had an increase in ad revenue as well. Kudos to our business team.” He nods in my direction, and next to me, Sanjit Mehta (senior, business manager) puts out his hand to high-five me (sophomore, reporter) and Javier, (sophomore, photographer). The knot in my chest loosens up a fraction.
All day, I’ve been trying not to hope too much. A fair and impartial review of my prospects concludes that I’m too young to be one of the executive-level editors. When Mr. Evans sent around his end-of-the-year survey of staff, though, I figured it would be reasonable to throw my hat in the ring to be business manager since Sanjit is graduating. Barring that, I’m hoping to be a section editor at least. Opinion is my first choice—even though I hate arguing in person, I love being able to construct an argument on paper—then Features or News. Those are the high-profile sections that would get the attention of a school with a prestigious journalism program.
Mr. Evans starts off by acknowledging the graduating staff. Our editor in chief, Julia Brown (Most Likely to Be Incarcerated to Protect Her Sources), is going to Northwestern to study journalism; Sanjit (Most Likely to Retire at Forty) to Penn for business. Next, he announces the new editor in chief, executive editor, and managing editor, all juniors. I try to be a team player and look happy when three upperclasswomen snag the sections I wanted.
When Javier (Most Likely to Insta His Own Kompromat) is announced as business manager, though, I can’t completely hide my disappointment. Everyone else is laughing, because it’s true: Javier’s Instagram is filled with compromising pictures that would probably torpedo any future attempts to run for public office, but the best I can manage is a barely convincing smile.
“Congrats, Javi,” I say, slapping him on the back. “You’re going to be awesome.”
As I wait for my own assignment, I focus on slowing down my breathing and on stopping my knee from jiggling so much it causes another furniture malfunction. Finally, after it seems like Mr. Evans has acknowledged every other sophomore on staff, his gaze turns to me.
“To Will Domenici, I’m delighted to bestow the title of Most Likely to Respond to a Tech SOS Within Thirty Seconds.” A ripple of laughter goes through the classroom, and my face feels like it’s going to spontaneously combust. Does Mr. Evans realize that he’s implying that I have no life? Apparently not: “With his history of reliability, tech savvy, and eye for design, I think you guys will agree that the Spartan couldn’t have a better assistant online manager.”
My classmates burst into applause, but for the second time in less than an hour, I have to force a grimace into a smile, and when I say “force” I’m describing a Herculean effort of acting and facial control that is probably Oscar-worthy, or at least deserving of a Daytime Emmy.
Of all the positions at the Spartan, assistant online manager is the booby prize. You’re not a reporter. You’re not an editor. From what I’ve seen, you’re nothing more than a coding minion and social media gopher. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the fact that the web team is an integral part of the success of any paper, it’s just that I feel like I have more to contribute.
I try to explain as much to Mr. Evans after class.
“Just because you’re assistant online manager doesn’t mean that you won’t also be able to write,” he reassures me.
“I know, but…” My voice cracks, and I study the worn linoleum floor by Mr. Evans’s desk. I take a deep breath and try not to sound pathetic. “Is my writing not good enough? Do you not trust my editorial judgment?”
“Oh, Will.” Mr. Evans leans in toward me and looks straight into my eyes, like he knows I’m the type to be skeptical of any praise. “You’re an excellent writer. Your attention to word choice is phenomenal, and you are always clear and precise in your reasoning. Your fact-checking is top-notch.”
I wait for the caveat for five excruciating seconds.
Mr. Evans’s eyes flick away for a second, and when he speaks again his voice is gentler. “I’ve noticed, though, that you rely a lot on secondary sources and e-mail correspondence for your stories. Next year, I want you to focus on going behind the scenes to really dig deep. Make that extra call. Drill down and ask the hard questions that make sources squirm.”
He makes it sound so easy. How can I tell him that he might as well be asking me to fly to the moon?
As if to illustrate my failure, my smart watch buzzes. My parents got it for me a few years ago after my last panic attack, and it’s set to go off when my heart rate goes above one hundred beats per minute. It’s supposed to be a cue to do my mindful breathing and centering exercises.
I open my mouth, but it feels like I’m drawing in air from one of those tiny plastic-straw stirrers you get at coffee shops.
Five seconds in, five seconds out.
The slow breaths do nothing to quiet the heckling questions that fill my head like an out-of-control press conference: Mr. Domenici, why are you so afraid of making cold calls? Don’t you think that you’re constitutionally incapable of asking the tough questions? Do you really think that someone who can’t even order pizza over the phone without breaking out into a sweat is going to be the next Bob Woodward?
“Will, are you okay?” Mr. Evans’s round face is creased with concern. “I don’t want you to be discouraged. You’re only a sophomore, and you’ve already got the most important attributes of a good journalist. Integrity. Attention to detail. Work ethic. It’ll come.”
“Sure,” I manage to get out. “Thanks, Mr. Evans.”
“Did you end up applying to any of the summer programs on the list I sent out? That’s one way to start honing those investigative skills.”
It’s a struggle to keep the self-loathing out of my voice when I answer. “No, it didn’t work out. I couldn’t find the right writing sample.” The truth is, I’d started the applications to three programs but chickened out when it came time to ask for letters of recommendation.
Mr. Evans brightens. “Well, that’s something you can work on over the summer—some kind of long-form piece that’ll show them both your investigative skills and your analytic ability. Remember, there are lots of ways to learn leadership skills. I’d like to see you take on a bigger role on the staff next year, so look for a summer job where you can learn how to manage a team and start thinking of the newspaper as a business whose readership you can grow.”
Furiously, I scribble down my assignment: Write a long-form piece. Make the calls and ask the hard questions. Learn how to manage a team. Grow a business. They’re only sound bites for now, and developing the story is going to be my big summer challenge, but all I can do is try.
This Is My Brain on the Impossible
Within the first day, I’m panicking.
“He set me up, Priya. It’s basically the ‘Impossible Task’ trope.” It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize in economics to realize after looking at my dad’s books that A-Plus has been operating on razor-thin margins for months. “The worst thing is, there isn’t enough data to figure out how to do better. I have no idea what dishes really sell the best or what our foot traffic is.”
It’s truly depressing. When it gets too exhausting to think about it, I do what I always do when I can’t deal with my life: I binge-watch a TV series.
When we first moved to Utica six years ago, Netflix saved my life. I’m not exaggerating.
I was ten years old when we moved, and to say that my family experienced culture shock moving from the “greatest city in the world” to a place where Red Lobster is high-class dining, well, that’s an understatement. Honestly, most of my classmates probably thought I was kind of a snob. There are only so many times you can start a sentence with “In the city, we used to…” before people stop talking to you. Which is why I spent most of middle school glued to a screen so I wouldn’t have to think about the fact that I had no real friends.
When Priya Venkatram moved here from San Francisco in seventh grade, she latched on to me right away when she heard I had lived in NYC. After we bonded over our mutual love of Orange Is the New Black and Better Call Saul, we became BFFs. She’d come over to the restaurant, and we’d put on a show with descriptive audio so I could listen as I did cleanup. I trust her judgment on TV shows 100 percent, so when she tells me that I might want to check out Restaurant: Impossible and Kitchen Nightmares for ideas, I do.
It only makes me feel more hopeless. “All the places on that show are sit-down,” I say. “Ninety percent of our business is take-out. Also, I can’t get a professional chef to come in with a full design team and do ten thousand dollars’ worth of renovations. You know this place is like a hamster wheel. There are only so many hours in a day, and we have to answer phones, make take-out bags, fold menus, prep food, do deliveries and inventory and purchasing.… How could I possibly have time to do community outreach on top of that?” I’m starting to hyperventilate just thinking about it.
“Can you guys hire someone part-time?”
I’ve thought about that, too. “My dad’s just going to yell that we can’t afford it,” I say.
Sure enough, the next day, that’s exactly what my dad says.
“Aren’t you always saying that our Yelp reviews complain about wait times?” I argue. “If we get more help our revenue goes up and they pay for themselves. Like with the sushi bar. If we get that cranking and sell four or five rolls a night, it’ll be worth it.” I still feel stupid calling a twelve-inch glass case that holds stuff to make California rolls a sushi bar, but whatever.
“We can’t even afford to bring someone from China,” my dad says. By that he means an under-documented “business associate.” “No one want to come to Utica.”
“We could hire a local student or something with the money in my savings account,” I suggest. I’ve squirreled away more than a thousand bucks from delivery tips. Because it isn’t like my dad actually pays me, of course.
My dad turns a dark orange. “If you have extra money, should go to your college fund!”
“If I have more time to study I’ll get into a better college,” I counter.
As I watch my father wrestle with an Asian parent’s version of a no-win situation, I haul out my laptop. Within minutes I’ve got an ad up on Craigslist.
Then I print up a HELP WANTED sign with little tabs you can tear off, and I hope to all the gods that it will be enough.
This Is My Brain on Unemployment
When my eleventh-hour effort to see if the Observer-Dispatch has any job openings fails, my mother wangles me an interview for a data mining internship at the hospital. It’s the first summer where I’ve really felt pressure to get a summer job. My family is well-off enough that I’ve always gotten an allowance just for doing chores and homework. My sister and I have never wanted for anything, a fact that started making me feel vaguely guilty around freshman year, when Manny got a job to save up for a used car.
This year, my mother is strongly encouraging me to “seek gainful employment.” I think she’s desperately afraid that I’m going to end up like my cousin Nick, who lazed around in the summers and is now going to what my mother deems a second-tier college, with my uncle Chris paying out his nose for him, too.
“It will be good for college applications, William,” my mother tells me as she pecks me on the forehead before rushing out the door to perform a C-section. “Everyone judges a man by the work of his hands.”
When my father drops me off for my interview, he hands me the container of hibiscus tea with honey that my mother made for me and reminds me to do some of Dr. Rifkin’s centering exercises if I get nervous before the interview.
I started going to Dr. Rifkin in third grade. I had begun complaining of stomachaches; the pain happened at random, and my mother went wild trying to figure out if I was hungry, or lactose intolerant, or allergic to gluten. I was paraded in front of pediatric specialists and went for ultrasounds where they kneaded my belly like it was pizza dough.
My father was the first one to notice that the stomachaches often coincided with exams at school, or with times I’d gotten into fights with my friends or my sister. He had seen my aunt Louisa struggle with anxiety when she was a teenager and suspected that was what I had. It took him a while to convince my mother that I should see someone.
“Will has always been a nervous child. Let us start by giving him some guidance rather than pathologizing his issues,” she told my dad. She filed away the list of child psychologists he’d given her and arranged for me to have a sit-down with my youth group coordinator instead.
Five months later and I had had guidance from pretty much everyone at the St. Agnes Lower School, up to and including Father Healdon (twice), and my stomachaches had progressed to bouts of nausea with the occasional vomiting episode thrown in for fun. When my nne nne visited from Chicago, she took one look at me and exclaimed, “Oga, na devil work,” before whisking me away to pray.
Finally, my father had had enough and set me up for a Skype session with Dr. Rifkin. My mother conceded that it was the right thing to do when my really bad symptoms stopped after the first month of cognitive behavioral therapy. The anxiety has mostly been manageable since, except for a couple of panic attacks that I had at the beginning of middle school.
After I check in at the front desk of the hospital for my interview, I’m directed to a waiting room. In a couple of minutes, the door to the administrative office opens, and a middle-aged guy with brown hair steps out. I kid you not, he’s wearing a cardigan in June.
“Mr. Domenici?” he calls out, staring around the room until his eyes land on a rumpled-looking white man sitting two chairs down from me. I wonder how he can seriously think that man is an intern applicant. The guy looks like he was born in the first Bush administration.
“Yes, hello. Mr. Johnson?” I stand up.
Mr. Johnson’s welcoming smile freezes infinitesimally as he gives me a once-over. I rub my wrist and can feel the fluttering of my pulse beat faster. I’ve seen The Look—that little panicked surprise when people realize that William Domenici isn’t a white male like they’ve assumed—so many times in my life you would think that my body would have gotten used to it by now, but nope.
- "Anxiety and depression can turn your brain into a fake news factory. With THIS IS MY BRAIN IN LOVE, I.W. Gregorio delivers a warm, honest, and timely story about friendship, family, love and asking for help when you need it. The chemistry between Jocelyn and Will is so crackling and irresistible, you'll fall in love, too."—Mary McCoy, author of Printz Honor Book I, Claudia
- "If there's only one book you read this year, please let it be This is Your Brain in Love! Everyone needs to read this beautiful and important book not only because it manages to be both laugh-out-loud funny and grab-a-tissue moving, but it's a novel that can open eyes, change minds, and hopefully change lives. Gregorio's writing made my heart hurt even as I was falling in love with Jocelyn and Will, two characters as complex and real as you'll ever meet on a page."—Ellen Oh, author of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings
- "Sweet, funny and full of feeling, This is My Brain in Love is a heartfelt and earnest look at mental health in the Asian American community. Gregorio captures so many truths about living with anxiety and depression in a story full of humor, wisdom and generosity. This is a book I needed as a teenager."—Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of Lost Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist Picture Us in the Light
"This is My Brain in Love is a sweet, honest love story about navigating mental illness, cross-cultural relationships, and self-acceptance. Humor and heart, happy and sad combine into a complex, contemporary romance as perfectly-blended as amah's dumplings."
—Mackenzie Lee, NYT bestselling author of The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue and Loki: Where Mischief Lies
- "Line by zinging line, I.W. Gregorio's second novel delights your brain and steals your heart. A deliciously, delicately wrought tapestry of culture, families and the fragile parts of ourselves that we should all learn to embrace."—Abigail Hing Wen, author of Loveboat, Taipei
- "Authentic and fresh, I.W. Gregorio serves up a first-rate romance between two teens whose differences may prove too hot to handle. This is my bookish heart in love."—Stacey Lee, award winning author of Outrun the Moon
- "Amazing story of the struggle to balance love and brains, and instead finding joy. Absolute perfection."—Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of Speak and Shout
- "A sweet, entertaining romance."—Kirkus
- *"Deftly navigating issues of race and mental health, as well as giving voice to the reality of American teens born to immigrant families, many of whom grapple with different cultural and familial expectations, Gregorio has written a heartwarming foodie rom-com."—School Library Journal, starred review
- *"Readers will come to this story for dynamic romantic and familial relationships, but they'll stay for its smart exploration of depression, anxiety, and self-care."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- "...will win readers with its sweet, sparky romance and its business-savvy plotline that celebrates young people working hard to overcome the odds."—BCCB
- On Sale
- Apr 14, 2020
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers