Most twelve-year-olds would be excited to fly to Austria to see their dad for the summer, but Becca is not like most twelve-year-olds. Suffering from severe anxiety, she fears that the metal detectors at the airport will give her cancer and the long international flight will leave her with blood clots. Luckily, she’s packed her Doomsday Journal, the one thing that always seems to help. By writing down her fears and what to do if the worst happens, Becca can get by without (many) panic attacks.
Routines and plans help Becca cope but living in a new country is full of the unexpected – including Becca’s companions for the summer. Like Felix, the short and bookish son of Becca’s dad’s new girlfriend. Or Sara, the nineteen-year-old Bosnian refugee tasked with watching the two of them for the summer. As Becca explores Vienna and becomes close to her new friends, she soon learns she is not alone in her fears. What matters most is what you do when faced with them.
As someone who lives with anxiety, I emphasize with many of Becca’s fears. She’s in an unfamiliar environment with different food and customs, as well as meeting her father’s peppy, happy girlfriend. It’s overwhelming, and some people can only handle so much at once. After going through an overwhelming situation, anxious people need time to rest before they can take on anything else. Based on my own experiences, you will crack and lash out if you do too many overwhelming things back to back.
I like Becca’s Doomsday Journals, where she writes down all her worries about worst-case scenarios and how to get through them. It helps to get your anxious thoughts out of your head and down on paper, where you can organize them and sometimes realize they are not as big as you thought.
While I related to many of Becca’s fears and empathized with her anxieties, I had a hard time understanding how she was able to overcome her fears. Maybe it’s because, along with anxiety, I am also autistic and have a bit of depression that I can’t comprehend how she could conquer so many of her fears. I have managed to conquer my fear of vaccinations and public speaking, but I’m still not budging on my fear of driving a car (because I don’t have a death wish). I think what I’m trying to say here is that people can be anxious about many different things. So if you have severe anxiety, get help while you are young and learn coping mechanisms that work for you.
Picture it: Vienna, Austria. 1993. This story was inspired by the author’s own experiences in Vienna, working as an au pair. Hence, all the details of daily life are authentic. I enjoyed learning about Austria’s rich history and how different Austria is from America. For one thing, Austrians are very trusting, operating on an honor system. Whereas most Americans will steal anything that’s not nailed down. Also, opera tickets are sold at a low price so everyone can go. Austrians really like opera.
I’m not going to bother writing about the Boasian genocide/war parts of the story. The story explains it well enough. I will say that we all have to accept that everyone has their own beliefs and religion and that we don’t all have to agree on the subject. And can we all just agree that deliberating killing a large number of people is a bad thing? So could we please stop shooting everything!
My favorite thing about this story is how Sara doesn’t make Becca feel bad about her fears. Sometimes I feel guilty when I get anxious over stupid things and feel like I need a real reason to be worried. But you shouldn’t compare your fears to others.
I guess this book can help inspire young readers to conquer their own anxieties, but I’m twenty-seven and stuck in my ways of coping, so yeah. But I still enjoyed reading it. I recommend listening to the audiobook to hear how all the German words are pronounced.