Good news, everyone! I’ve got my reading bug back and I’m powering through books like never before (yay for Kindles and libraries!). One book that I want to talk about is Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland.
Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland
Publication Date: 04 October 2016
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.
Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.
I love love stories. I don’t care who knows it, I just can’t get enough of them. My favourite ones are the “meant-to-be-together-but-seemingly-kept apart” stories (like Love, Rosie/Where Rainbows End) but I’m also happy with a love triangle too. (Note to self: borrow aforementioned book from the library).
When I heard about Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland, I was intrigued. It didn’t sound like a typical love story, nor did it sound like a typical YA love story. I was very lucky to receive the opportunity to read the book before official publication, although I will admit it has taken me a while to do so… *guilty face* Even though I had a digital review copy, I thought a self-imposed deadline by borrowing a copy from the library would motivate me to read and review in a more timely fashion then my current way of working. Better late than never, right?
I always thought the moment you met the great love of your life would be more like the movies. Not exactly like the movies, obviously, with the slow-mo and the hair blowing in the breeze and the swelling instrumental soundtrack. But I at least thought there would be something, you know? A skipped beat of the heart. A tug at your soul where something inside you goes, “Holy shit. There she is. Finally, after all this time, there she is.”
Henry wasn’t looking for love. He was more than content to focus on school, and concentrate on getting good enough grades to get him into college. He didn’t pay much attention to Grace, the new girl in town. By Henry’s own admission “there was no slow-mo, no breeze, no soundtrack, and definitely no skipped heartbeats” when Grace entered class, dressed in boy’s clothes, without a scrap of make up and looking a little unclean. After being paired together to run the school paper, Henry finds himself falling in love with the mysterious Grace. There’s just one problem – why doesn’t she love him as much as he loves her?
Let’s start with the characters. Henry, our main character, was too good to be true. Sadly, it’s almost like he was written to be the perfect character, never putting a foot wrong. He’s so funny, and so charming. He is a connoisseur of memes and pop culture references. As you can imagine, it began to feel rather disingenuous after a few pages. Unfortunately the rest of the characters were to suffer the same fate. His parents were “so understanding”, “so cool”, “so down with the kids”. I’ll be honest, I’m not keen on the “sassy parents” trope in YA. I don’t know of any parents like this, and I highly doubt they would just let Henry do what he wanted without some sort of parental input. His best friends Murray and Lola were… odd. Murray was a pretty weird guy overall, and didn’t serve any purpose apart from a few jokes at his expense. Lola, the self-styled “diversity triple threat” could have been a much more genuine character if every response she had wasn’t ladled with sass.
Grace, however, is another matter. Grace is probably the most “real” character in this book. She has depth, and emotion. She’s a teenage girl who has suffered loss. She doesn’t know what she wants. She makes mistakes. She gets drunk. She says and does things she doesn’t mean. Honestly, I wish we had been given a few chapters from Grace’s perspective, as I would have liked to have gotten to know her outside of Henry’s perspective. Then again, I think that’s the point of the book…
Our Chemical Hearts had a very engaging, easy to read writing style. The style of story telling felt “current” and with the times, and like I said before, Henry’s narration was brimming with memes, movies references, swearing etc. With regards to the plot, I thought it was good. It was different. For want of a better word, it’s refreshing to see grief explored in YA, together with a plot about rejecting the stereotype of love. Even though I love “love stories”, even I know that love is messy, and flawed. You can’t put someone on a pedestal, but then criticize them when they don’t live up to your expectation of what YOU think they are. Henry thought he knew who Grace was, when he actually had no idea at all. He was in love with the idea of Grace, rather than the reality. It’s also worth noting that love isn’t always equally reciprocated, no matter how much you love them. If it was, then I would have become Mrs Gosling a LONG time ago.
I rated Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland 3/5 stars on GoodReads. I enjoyed it, I really did, but I can’t help but feel it could have been better. Whilst I applaud that it is a story that deals with a difficult subject, and not one I read a lot in YA, the characters should have felt more “real” than what they did. If they had, this book could have been 4 stars for me, perhaps even 5. For a debut novel it was a good offering, and I wish Krystal all the best for her upcoming second novel. Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to the library…