Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Our Chemical Hearts

Author: Krystal Sutherland
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 311
Publisher: G.P Putnam Sons Books
First Published: October 4, 2016
First Line: "I always thought the moment you met the great love of your life would be more like the movies."

Book Description from GoodReadsHenry 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.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I went into this book thinking that it would be a teen romancy kind of read. Cue the witty banter, a cute love story and some teenage angst.  But instead I got something quite different.  Sure, there's awesome banter which is delightfully dry and made me laugh out loud a few times.  There's a love story and definitely teenage angst but it went a lot deeper than I had anticipated and really gave me some things to think about.  

The book centres around Henry Page who is 17 years old and lives in his own universe with a tight knit group of family and his best friends Lola and Murray perpetually by his side. Henry is humble, sweet, very witty and generally a good guy.  It's not until Grace, a new girl at school, shows up that his universe is thrown into a tailspin.

What immediately hit me was the depth of the characters.  Henry had bonds with so many people and I felt like they were each given a good amount of page time for the reader to really get a sense of how they affected Henry's daily life.  This was especially clear in his relationship with his two best friends - Lola and Murray - who are quirky in the best possible sense of the word.  These three love and 'get' each other, their banter is hilarious and you know that they will be there for support through the good, bad and the utterly disastrous. 

The same could be said for Henry's older sister Sadie and his more than than quirky-cool parents (whom I immediately pictured as Dill and Rosemary Penderghast from the movie Easy A).  These two are delightfully funny with a healthy dose of dry wit.  They adore Henry and give him the space to make decisions for himself.

Henry's parents remind me of Olive Penderghast's
parents from Easy A, Dill and Rosemary.
My feelings for Grace were a little more complicated.  I struggled to understand her and I liked how the author revealed why she is the way she is. But I still never fully trusted her. I was pretty firmly on Team Henry and didn't want to see him hurt.  But at the same time, I could understand why Grace struggled with her own demons.  Like Lola, I wasn't always a fan of their relationship and it was hard to witness when it became toxic and painful.  

Sutherland paints a very realistic picture regarding relationships.  They're intricate, complicated and can be viewed through different lenses depending on who's looking.  Do we love the person standing before us or just the idea of what we want them to be?  Can we just love certain aspects of people?  Do people show us their whole selves?  Do they have to?  Does true love last?

“Love doesn't need to last a lifetime for it to be real. 
You can't judge the quality of a love by the length of time it lasts. 
Everything dies, love included. 
Sometimes it dies with a person, sometimes it dies on its own. 
The greatest love story ever told doesn't have to be about two people 
who spent their whole lives together. It might be about a love that lasted 
two weeks or two months or two years, but burned brighter and 
hotter and more brilliantly than any other love before or after. 
Don't mourn a failed love; there's no such thing. 
All love is equal in the brain. ”

To balance out the heavy themes in the book Sutherland employs humour, complete with some great one liners.  My inner geek also loved the great book and movie references that were, for the most part, easy to get.  My favourites were, of course, the Harry Potter references which included the shock and outrage that some people still haven't read the series.  And then there's Henry's "Why You Should Date Me" Powerpoint presentation which made me giggle and fall for his character even more.
This book is a whole lot of things wrapped up into one nice package.  It's about friends, family, finding yourself and the feelings of first love in all its obsessive and astounding bliss.  But it also deals with loss and the struggle to live with all-consuming grief which people deal with in very different ways and on varying time lines.  These are heavy, sometimes messy, potentially disturbing and heart-breaking topics but I think that Sutherland balances the deep and somber moments with episodes of light, laugh-out-loud banter which made this book a roller coaster of a ride and hard to put down for any length of time.  I also liked the realistic ending where things weren't wrapped up nice and neatly in the end. Life, love and loss are messy.  Let's not sugarcoat it.

Krystal Sutherland has written a very impressive debut novel. It's beautifully vivid cover will entice you but its characters, honest portrayal of the complexity of relationships and its humour make this book is a truly wonderful read.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to G.P Putnam and Sons Publishing for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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