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Book Review

When We Collided by Emery Lord has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

The story is written from two different perspectives. One is 16-year-old Vivi, a bright and extroverted young woman. The other is Jonah, who is 17 years old, quiet and serious.

Vivi and her mother are house-sitting for a friend in the quaint California beach town of Verona Cove. Vivi has fallen in love with its small-town charm. She also has been recently diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. But as the novel opens she decides not to take her medication as it causes her to feel like a zombie; she loves life too much not to experience it. Each day, she makes a trek to a cliff and throws her pill into the ocean. Although she has only been in town a few weeks, Vivi gets a part-time job at a pottery-painting studio. That’s where she meets Jonah.

Jonah’s life turned upside down several months ago when his father died of a heart attack. Since then, his mother has fallen into a deep depression, rarely able to drag herself out of bed. Jonah and his two older siblings, Silas and Naomi, take care of the three youngest children, including 6-year-old Leah.

They meet Vivi when Jonah takes Leah to the pottery shop as a reward for doing all her chores. Vivi is immediately smitten with Jonah’s good looks and soulful demeanor. Leah falls in love with Vivi’s fun personality and asks her over for dinner, because Jonah is the best cook in the town. Although Jonah is terrified what this beautiful girl might think of his loud, bickering, grieving siblings, he agrees to cook pizza for Vivi that evening.

She charms the entire family, except for Naomi, who tends to mistrust everyone. The following day, Vivi brings a homemade slip and slide to Jonah’s house, and the family spends a day laughing in the water. When Jonah, who works as a cook for the family’s restaurant, brings Vivi lunch at the pottery studio, she thanks him with a kiss. Even after Jonah tells her about his mother’s battle with depression, Vivi continues getting to know him and cheering up his family.

Unfortunately, the longer she does not take her medicine, the more manic her behavior becomes. She insists Jonah accompany her on a midnight ocean swim, even though it is illegal and dangerous. She paints the ceiling of her rented bedroom dark blue with stars. She also convinces her mother to let her borrow the car and then drives to San Jose. There, she buys herself a Vespa, because she thinks she will look cool riding it on the streets of Verona Cove. Her mom suspects she may not be taking her medication, but Vivi convinces her that everything is all right.

Some of Vivi’s ideas are good, such as when she convinces Jonah to think of ways to save his father’s restaurant from foreclosure. At first Jonah is reluctant, thinking that any change will dishonor his father’s memory. But Vivi argues that he will be adding to his father’s legacy, not dismantling it. Jonah begins to make plans to renovate the outside patio into a dining room instead of a storage area. Vivi also helps Jonah’s mom when she suffers a panic attack at the local grocery store.

Vivi’s behavior becomes more erratic at the town bonfire. She is openly hostile to Ellie, an old family friend and the daughter of the man who owned the restaurant with Jonah’s dad. Then she insists on going skinny-dipping with a bunch of the locals. Jonah is furious as she flirts and takes pictures with strangers in her underwear.

The two argue, but Vivi shows up later in his bedroom while the rest of the family is asleep. She explains that she values experiencing life over people, but she wants to share every experience she can with him. They have sex, and Vivi leaves before dawn.

Jonah hosts a party for Vivi’s 17th birthday on the patio of the restaurant. Everyone dresses as his or her favorite animal, per Vivi’s wishes. Jonah wears a tuxedo and says he is a penguin. Later that night, Jonah opens up about his father. Vivi begins a frantic search for her own father, a man she has never known. She ransacks her mother’s bedroom and finally finds her birth certificate, which lists her father’s name. She finds another document that he signed, surrendering his custody of her. It said he was from Berkeley, California.

Vivi imagines how thrilled her father will be when she finds him. She rides her Vespa down to Berkeley and knocks on his front door. But instead of a happy reunion, she finds out her father does not want her in his life and has never told his family about her. Vivi breaks down in tears and calls Jonah to bring her home.

Vivi’s mother buys her a dog to help revive her from her depression. She begins to feel like the universe is sending her on a special quest. She searches for clues throughout the town. She gets the idea that the next clue will be found in San Diego. As she races out of her house to find it, she runs into Jonah. He is worried about her behavior, but agrees to go for a ride with her on the Vespa.

Once she begins speeding through stop signs, he makes her let him off. He tries to convince her to let him drive her home, but she refuses. In her manic state, she loses control of the Vespa and hits a tree. She wakes up in a hospital on heavy medication with a compound fracture of her arm and severe road rash.

When Jonah tries to visit her in the hospital, she throws him out, convinced he should be angry with her. Instead, he goes home and bakes her a pie. The next day, Ellie delivers the pie and a gift basket from Jonah’s family. She and Vivi have an honest talk about the nature of mental illness, as Ellie’s brother had been a patient in the same hospital when he battled depression.

After this, and a visit with a psychiatrist, Vivi begins to understand that accepting her diagnosis, and working with her doctor to find the right medication, will allow her to live a full life. It may not always be the life she dreamed of, but it can be a rewarding life, nonetheless.

Jonah’s mother also begins to get help for her depression. She starts working on improving the financial situation of the restaurant. Ellie and Jonah have developed some new items for the menu, giving the restaurant more of a bistro vibe. They introduce the new menu to their local friends and receive rave reviews.

Vivi arrives once everyone but Jonah has left. The two walk out to their favorite spot overlooking the ocean. There she tells him that she is returning to her home in Seattle. It is there she believes she can get the help she needs to learn to live with her disorder. Jonah is devastated. She agrees to meet him the next day before she leaves town so that they can say goodbye.

When he arrives at the meeting place, he finds Vivi has left him a note. She explains how much she loved him, but that she hates goodbyes. She has left him a present on the restaurant patio. She has painted a mural on the outside wall.

At first, Jonah thinks it is only a beautiful seascape, but then he realizes there are seven small sailboats with nautical flags that spell out his last name. An eighth, and larger sailboat, is sailing toward a glorious sunset. Jonah knows Vivi has painted a portrait of his family. His father is moving forward to a glorious unknown destination, but his family will follow him one day.

Christian Beliefs

Although her depression usually keeps Jonah’s mom locked in her bedroom, she does occasionally go to church. Vivi asks Jonah if he believes in heaven, and he tells her he wants to. Vivi admits that although she does not think she believes in God, she often finds herself calling out to a higher power for help.

Other Belief Systems

Vivi believes in reincarnation. She claims she was once a dolphin and a ballet dancer. She tells Jonah he was once an otter, a tree and a sea captain. When they go out for a midnight swim, Vivi “baptizes” Jonah in the name of the god of midnight swimming, also known as the moon. Vivi calls herself a spirit child of the world. She thinks about the Buddhist concept of emptiness, but not an emptiness of despair, one of possibility.

Authority Roles

Jonah’s dad was larger than life and full of love for his wife, family and friends. His mother suffers from depression, but it is obvious she loves her children. Once she reaches out for help, she slowly starts to be able to take care of them again.

Vivi’s mother is a free spirit. She is an artist who occasionally has one-night stands with men she meets. It is obvious that she loves Vivi and would do anything to help her, even committing to attending counseling with Vivi to help them both work through her mental illness.


God’s name is used alone and with oh my, sake, thank and d--n. Lord and Jesus are both used as exclamations. The f-word is used as an exclamation and as a verb. One character flips off another. A-- is used alone and with hole, crack and jack. B--ch, d--n, h---, s--- and s---y are used. Other objectionable words are Holy Moly, p---, p---y, and crappy.

Jonah sees Vivi crash her Vespa. He sees bone protruding from her shoulder and lots of blood. Vivi cut her own wrists the previous year. She insists she was not trying to kill herself; she only wanted to see if she could feel something, even pain, because she felt so numb.


Jonah and Vivi share several passionate kisses. Vivi tells Jonah that perhaps in a previous life he watched her dance and then they made love all night. She recalls performing a “scandalous act” on him in an outdoor beach shower the week before, but does not say what it was. She relates that her mother sometimes stays out with men she meets while at art openings because she is looking for someone to love her.

Vivi dreams about, and later recalls, her manic episode the previous year, in which she slept with her friend’s ex-boyfriend in the friend’s bed. Vivi and Jonah make love for the first time in his bedroom, while his family is asleep. Another time they have sex outside behind a shed in his yard.

In her manic state, Vivi often thinks about having sex. She considers stripping in the front yard to have sex with Jonah because she believes it is a natural act.

Jonah randomly mentions that a woman at the bistro is there with her wife. Vivi’s best friend sends a picture of her new girlfriend and tells Vivi she thinks she is falling in love.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Vivi does shots at a friend’s birthday party. A keg of beer is shared at a bonfire on the beach. Many of the drinkers are underage, including Vivi and Jonah.

Drugs: Jonah talks about a classmate who deals pot and Ritalin. The boy’s older brother deals harder drugs.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


Emery Lord






Record Label



Bloomsbury Publishing


On Video

Year Published



Schneider Family Book Award, 2017


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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