Book Review: Our Chemical Hearts

by Emma Sewell
by Emma Sewell

This month’s Book of the Month is Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland. So what is it, in a nutshell? It has a bit of everything: friendship, love, humour, heartache. It’s the tale of a boy finding first love, and learning how tough life can be when you’re in it.

Now, here’s confession time…

Our Chemical Hearts…this really isn’t my sort of book. If you laid out books in front of me to pick from I’d head straight to the crime or sci-fi titles. But at the same time, I knew from the off that Our Chemical Hearts was going to be a good book. As mentioned in its blurb, it says it will appeal to fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell and E. Lockhart. I can only imagine, having not read them, that this means fans of all these authors enjoy having their heart ripped out and stomped on.

The Characters

Our main character is Henry Page, he’s better with written rather than spoken word, and is set to be editor of the school paper. A film buff, a video game fan, just a normal guy who is verging on nerd.

His friends, Lola and Murray, are always there for each other. They make a perfect trio. They know when to let go, and when one of them needs a reality check.

The Page family, two eccentric and embarrassing parents, and a sister who has left a reputation at Henry’s high school that makes his life difficult.

And finally there’s Grace Town. The mysterious, disheveled, limping, transfer student. She isn’t what you’d expect from a leading lady, but then you can’t choose who you fall in love with.

The Story

I’m hyper-aware that there are lots of things I would love to say about Our Chemical Hearts, and those things would ruin the end of the book. So I will try and avoid any spoiler alerts.

Grace Town is a mystery wrapped in slightly dirty looking exterior. Henry is drawn to her presence, she’s intriguing, and a little bit broken.

Everyone, including Henry, wants to know what her story is. Why does she have a car that she lets other people drive, but never drives herself? Where does she go every afternoon after Henry drives them to his house after school? And why is this girl who dresses in guys clothes and hardly washes so different from the bright and bubbly looking picture on her Facebook?

As the tale unfolds you are faced with tragedy, family issues, first love, the bonds of friendship, and the realisation that sometimes knowing the truth isn’t all it’s cut out to be.

The Verdict

As I said at the beginning, this isn’t really my sort of story. I got half way through the books and thought, “yeah it’s nicely written”. Not much of an endorsement is it? That first half took me two weeks to get through. I was determined to persist, but I was really just reading it because I felt I should persevere until the end.

Last night, I sat down with nothing else to do and picked it up again. In the space of three hours I turned into a believer. The second half of Our Chemical Hearts was amazing and horrible all at once. It wouldn’t have taken me three hours to finish had I not had to keep stopping because I couldn’t read through the tears (I know, I know, what a wreck!).

Sometimes I read a book and wonder why on earth it had the title that it did. It either doesn’t make sense, or it feels a bit cliché. As I read the paragraph that makes the title make sense I stopped and thought, “now that’s good”.

While the book covers some family issues that could on the face of it appear tricky, (separation, alcoholism) they are done really well. It does make you stop and think about things, which I think is an amazing achievement in a YA book. Some people are cautious of books for teens that include the mention of sex, and in this one Henry does lose his virginity. But honestly, don’t let that stop you from recommending it to people. It is done so well, and is in no way thrown in gratuitously.

My experience going from a skeptic to a teary wreck in the space of three hours means I have to recommend this book. I feel like it’s slightly more unusual for this type of book to have a boy as the main character (although I’m told this is not a strange as I think it is), but it works so well. And while I don’t know quite how I feel about the ending of the book, I love the story it told.

If you fancy finding out more about Krystal Sutherland, author of Our Chemical Heart, you can visit her website and find her one Twitter.

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