This is the story of an estranged father, Lucas, coming back into his teenage daughter’s life. At 17 years old, Vera has suffered a psychotic break, and after video of her public breakdown surfaces, Lucas decides to take her with him on a trip to Vilnius, Lithuania. Lucas desperately wants to find his way back into Vera’s life, and he sees this trip as a chance to find a way forward in their relationship. A family story about Lucas’s grandmother escaping a concentration camp and eventually being release by a Nazi guard provides some of the backbone to this family saga.
The story is told from both Lucas and Vera’s perspectives, with Vera’s sections told in the form of letters she sends to her boyfriend back home, Fang. The characters are perfectly developed: endearingly flawed but self-aware and open. As Lucas stumbles through his time in Vilnius, taking in historical tours and seeking out information about his grandmother, Vera is, for a time, surprisingly stable and enjoying the freedoms afforded to her. As we begin to grasp the weight of Vera’s mental illness, a tenderness develops between her and Lucas.
Dear Fang, With Love is emotionally intelligent and surprisingly touching. Thorpe dissects so much in regards to identity, specifically how we’re shaped by the stories we’re told – and what happens when the narratives in our lives are upended. This is a great escapist book, between the history and the descriptions of life in Vilnius it’s easy to feel transported.
Vera’s letters to Fang allow us into her complex and bright mind, seeing her decline in mental health play out before us. Thorpe is honest in depictions of what living with a mental illness might look like, such as how the stigma of diagnosis and side effects of stabilizing medication can impact a person’s self- worth. The book doesn’t wrap itself up nicely, but realistically; families are complicated and life is full of uncertainty, yet somehow, in spite of impending despair, we move forward.