Hello (From Here)
Hello (From Here)
“I feel kind of trapped now,” he says. “This whole lockdown thing sucks.”
“Totally sucks,” I agree. “No parties, no formals, no reason to get dressed, let alone dressed up. I have a bomb dress hanging in my closet and nowhere to wear it to. Which sucks.”
“I miss restaurants,” he says. “Takeout kind of sucks. My cooking sucks even more, though.”
“Zoom classes are going to suck.”
“Try being stuck for days on end with my stepmother. That sucks.”
“I just started wearing a mask all day and trust me that—”
“Sucks,” Jonah finishes for me.
The microwave beeps and we both break eye contact simultaneously.
“Hold that thought. We’re not done with our culinary lesson yet,” I warn.
I talk him through my famous nacho popcorn made spicy with crushed Flaming Hot Cheetos.
“Really, how you haven’t received a Michelin star yet is beyond me.” Jonah taste-tests his, which is sadly devoid of Cheetos.
“Do you at least have whipped cream?” I ask.
He rummages in his fridge and sticks his arm all the way to the back. “It’s probably old.”
“It’s fine. It’s just chemicals anyway.”
“That’s…comforting. For the cake?” he asks, shaking it.
I grab my own canister. “No, it’s for our mouths. To 2020.” I cheers him and then tip my head back and spray a big dollop of whipped cream straight into my open mouth. “The year in which everything sucks. Except for cake.”
“Except,” he says, mouth half full of whipped cream, “for you.”
Hello (From Here) is a dual-perspective romance story in the beginning stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Max and Jonah meet in a grocery store and sparks fly over a toilet paper tussle—mainly; Max has multiple packages of toilet paper to deliver for her part-time job, and Jonah desperately needs toilet paper for his family. After a brief interaction, it is clear that Jonah is smitten, but Max is unbothered. Jonah creates a plan with his older, immunocompromised, sister to have Max deliver groceries to their house so he can see her again, and the difficulties of navigating dating in a pandemic and navigating the pandemic, itself, begin to unfold.
Each chapter switches between Jonah’s perspective and Max’s perspective, thereby allowing the reader to see the stark differences between their day-to-day experiences and how the Covid-19 pandemic impacts their lives. Jonah works through his anxiety and panic attacks while worrying that everyone in his life might get sick, especially his vulnerable older sister and his dad who is stuck out of the country because of flight restrictions. He is less concerned about his stepmother who entered his life too soon for his liking after the tragic passing of his mother. Some of the time he is able to reflect on the words of his therapist to work through his anxiety, and other times he is left throwing up air over his toilet. Still, he is able to use his new relationship with Max as a distraction from the world around him and lives a comfortable life in his big house with unlimited access to technology.
Max, on the other hand, works part-time delivering groceries to save money for post-secondary. Her rickety car helps her delivery groceries to her clients before coming home to the small apartment she shares with her mom. Max wants to go to school to study business and help expand her mom’s dry cleaning business which takes a hit during the closures of the pandemic. The hit is such that, at one point, Max has to use her entire savings account to pay for rent, draining her dreams and her patience with trying to participate in online school. Max stops trying to use her patchy Wi-fi to participate in classes, and she starts working full-time to make sure she and her mom will survive the pandemic.
Throughout the story, Max takes the hardest hits, and Jonah goes over-the-top to try to make her feel better. Max loses one of her favourite clients to Covid-19, and, shortly after, her mom needs to be rushed to the hospital because of Covid-related complications. The narrative does not brush over the seriousness of the pandemic and explores the difficulties of being a teenager and not knowing what the next steps are: Are you allowed to see people? Should people be wearing masks? What do you do about parents who get their information from Facebook? These ideas are layered in a romance that takes place primarily over texts and FaceTime, with teenagers making missteps and doing what they can to create some sense of normalcy in a not-so-normal time.
Hello (From Here) is an easy-to-read novel about young love in the time of Covid-19. It has meaningful switches in perspectives, with each character having a distinct voice and living situation that is a needed contrast. The highs and lows in Max and Jonah’s life are expertly balanced and intertwined and give the reader space to celebrate moments of joy and grieve the immense losses that have coexisted in the pandemic. The novel does come with a content warning that should not be skipped: the story talks about death, Covid-19, AIDS, mental health disorders, and racism. It is jam-packed with important content for young adult readers to latch onto, and the back-and-forth jitters of a new romance between Max and Jonah will keep them turning the pages.
Lindsey Baird is a high school English teacher in Lethbridge, Alberta.