ARC Review: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

Title: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

Author: Krystal Sutherland

Series: N/A

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Release Date: September 5th 2017


Five Stars

From the author of Our Chemical Hearts comes the hilarious, reality-bending tale of two outsiders facing their greatest fears about life and love one debilitating phobia at a time.

Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.

Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.

– Blurb courtesy of

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My Thoughts On…

…The Plot

“Every Sunday for the next year,” Jonah had said at the lake. “Fifty fears. Fifty weeks. Fifty videos. Fifty chances to meet Death personally ask him to break the curse.”
Esther picked up her phone and sent him a message that was only five words long.
‘I’ll see you on Sunday.’

Ever since her grandfather met the Man Who Would Be Death during the Vietnam war Esther’s family have been cursed. Each of them have one great fear that will eventually kill them, and over the years Esther has watched her family fall apart as her father refuses to leave the basement after suffering a deliberating stroke, as her mother gambles all their money away at casinos, and as her brother soaks up all the light he can fearful of the monsters waiting for him in the dark. Esther doesn’t know what her greatest fear is, instead she keeps a notebook with all her small fears. After all, if she can avoid everything she fears she’ll never discover what her one phobia is.

Until the day Jonah Smallwood comes crashing back into her life. After pick pocketing Esther and taking everything she had on her person, including her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares, the two come up with a better way of avoiding the curse; living through all of Esther’s worst fears, surviving and conquering them, in the hopes that it will attract Death’s attention and they can ask him to remove the curse he put on the Solars.

“Death didn’t come for them on the beach, or when they were riding Jonah’s moped home, or later, when they didn’t get food poisoning from the expired lobster sauce. How Esther imagined it in her head: Death was busy most of that day with a car bomb in Damascus and a particularly stubborn widow who refused to shuffle off her mortal coil.”

Every Sunday Jonah and Esther, and later Eugene – Esther’s twin brother – and Hephzibah – Esther’s best friend – face a different fear from Esther’s list; going from lobsters, to moths, to cornfields, to jumping off cliffs. Every day they seem to be closer to their goal, but the more time they spend the more Esther’s family seems to fall apart; her grandfather is fading away in a nursing home, her mother is losing all their money at the casinos, her father is suffering more strokes but is too scared to call for help in case he’s forced to move out of the basement, and Eugene is losing himself more and more in the darkness he fears.

If Esther and Jonah don’t find Death and get him to remove the curse soon, Esther won’t have anyone left to save.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmare is one of my favourite YA contemporary books that I’ve read this year so far. I loved reading Esther’s and Jonah’s adventures as they faced down her fears and I loved reading the history between Esther’s grandfather and the Man Who Would Be Death, but what I loved the most is Esther’s family. There is a lot of pain in the Solar family, and it was written in a way that you couldn’t help but feel their fears alongside them.

…The Characters

“What are we, Esther Solar?” came Jonah’s voice from offscreen.
“Fear eaters,” she said. Except it wasn’t her who said it, or at least not how she remembered herself saying the words.

Esther has always believed in the curse. She has watched it claim her family members one by one and is determined to beat it, even if that means shutting herself away from life outside of her family. She dresses up every day in costumes; Little Red Riding Hood, Wednesday Adams to stop people from looking at her and seeing the real her, and she suffers from social anxiety in large groups of people. There is a lot Esther is scared of and opening herself up to Jonah is one such thing, but she loves her family and is determined to face her fears, meet Death, and end this curse before she loses anyone else.

“So you see, the story of how Esther Solar was robbed by Jonah Smallwood is quite straightforward. The story of how she came to love Jonah Smallwood is a little bit more complicated.”

Jonah left town once but now he’s back again and left an impression on Esther when he pick-pocketed her. Jonah wants to get out of the small town he’s found himself back in, wants to get away from his father, but he has no hope because he can’t leave his younger sister behind. To Esther Jonah is brave, he faces all the fears in her book without fail and without flinching, recording their process for prosperity. He believes in the curse, believes in Esther about her grandfathers’ past with Death, and even when Esther is too scared to go on Jonah is the one pushing her forwards, pushing her to face her fears.

The relationship between Jonah and Esther was incredibly written, really cute and heart-warming. Both characters have a horrible home life but in different ways. Esther’s family has slowly been falling apart ever since her father retreated to the basement whereas Jonah’s father fell apart after his wife, Jonah’s mother, died. However when Esther and Jonah are together they forget all that. Still watching her mother slowly fade away because of her father, and feeling it herself when Jonah left her to the bullies when they were children, Esther can’t bring herself to open up to him, too scared of getting hurt again.

“Why are you sad?” she whispered. A superfluous question, perhaps. In the broken remains of the Solar family, there were so many reasons to choose from. Still, despite how bad the situation had gotten Esther didn’t feel the need to drag blades through her skin.
Something more plagued Eugene. Something deeper.
“I don’t know,” he whispered back. “It’s just the way I am.”

The family dynamic between the Solars was one of the best parts of this book. Esther has fond memories of her mother and father before their fears overtook them; her father was kind and her mother was magic, but the curse stole them from her and while she loves her parents Esther doesn’t like them. The relationship between Esther and Eugene was my favourite part of this book, heartbreaking at times but full of love and support. Esther has watched Eugene swallowed up by his fear of the dark, she sees his fear and his sadness but doesn’t know how to help him.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is a book that’s going to stay with me for a long time. I’m not sure if it’s more magical realism or contemporary, but what I know it is is a beautiful story with heartbreakingly real characters who go through incredible development as the book unfolds. I’d highly recommend this book, and I’m definitely interested in picking up Krystal Sutherland’s other release soon.

What did you think of A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.

All quotes have been taken from an ARC and may differ in the final publication.

27 thoughts on “ARC Review: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

  1. Ahh one of your favourite contemporaries this year??! What high praise! 😀 This book is already on my TBR, but I hadn’t thought much of it until this review ahah. This sounds AMAZING and I definitely will be keeping an eye out for it when it releases!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely high praise and definitely well deserved when it comes to A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares! 😀 I’d recommend picking this up as soon as you get a chance Analee. It’s a book that is so much more than you think it will be, it’s just a beautiful story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh lovely review, Beth! I’m so glad to hear you loved that book so much. I just recently added it to my TBR but didn’t think much of it until just now. I thought it would be a good contemporary with nothing much added to it, but I’m so glad that book stood out for you and that you loved the character development happening ❤ Definitely picking it up soon!


    1. Thanks so much Marie! 😀 I was a little surprised by how much I loved this book, like you I thought it would be a good contemporary with nothing much added to it but it was so much more. This was a book that really stayed with me and it was a beautiful story as well.
      I’ll be looking forwards to seeing what you think of this one Marie, I hope you love it as much as I did either way! 😀 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely review Beth! I’ve been seeing this book around the interwebz & loved the premise + I can’t resist a good book centered around family. Your review has made me even more curious about Esther & what her fear could possibly be….*adds to TBR* & as always LOVE the quotes you’ve chosen, especially the fear eaters one 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Lilly. 🙂 I’ve been seeing this book around WordPress a fair bit as well, that was actually the reason I requested it when I saw it on NetGalley.
      This book has an incredible family dynamic, that’s one of the main things I look for in YA contemporary books, and I loved Esther’s character and her journey.
      I hope you enjoy this book too Lilly, there are plenty more amazing quotes actually in the book. I just chose a few of my favourites for this review. 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely reading this one! I’ve also seen a lot rave reviews around the blogosphere & that’s always a plus. I also look for family themed books in contemporary both in YA & adult. I’m sure there are, I look forward to reading this one 💜

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yay, oh that’s great to hear Lilly. 😀 I know I’ve probably said this before but I really hope you love this one and I cannot wait to see your review for it as well.
        Yeah I’m always on the look out for family themed books, there are so few in fantasy that I feel YA contemporary is the only genre I can get my fix. 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a beautiful review for a beautiful book. I was really taken by surprise. I expected this to be fun, and it was, but then there were these really deep parts, and I started crying, but it was sad and beautiful, and loved it. You nailed the romance between Esther and Jonah. I was so happy that fate, or a mugging, brought them back together again, because they needed each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. That’s exactly how I felt about this book. The blurb made it sound like a light-hearted, almost comedic read, but there were so much more depth than I expected. I loved all the emotional aspects, it added so much to the story and while I didn’t cry I did feel like it at certain parts.
      I was surprised at the very beginning when I read how Jonah came back into Esther’s life, because of the mugging aspect, but I loved their relationship. It was so incredibly well written and got with their characters so well too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s a shame, there have been a few books On NetGalley I’ve wanted to read really badly but I couldn’t request them because of the preferred country. It sucks but this is being released soon so you don’t have too much longer the wait. It’s a brilliant book, one of my top contemporaries of the year! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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