Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland
Published October 3, 2016 by Penguin Books
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars
From the blurb: 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.
Our Chemical Hearts is the debut novel of Australian author Krystal Sutherland. I am always excited to read new AussieYA novels so I have to admit that excitement diminished a little when I started this book and realised it was set in an unnamed American town and was very much an American story, complete with American terms and spelling, even in the Australian edition. However, I could still feel a spark of what makes AussieYA unique and I was also instantly reminded of one of my favourite books, Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil. The author created a tangible world for her characters and I could feel it the moment I started reading.
We meet Henry at the start of his final year. He's a good student on the whole, he has an excellent relationship with his parents, he enjoys spending time with his two best friends, Lola and Murray, and he adores his older sister, Sadie, and his nephew, Ryan. But before we can get to know more about him, we're introduced to Grace Town. Grace has just transferred from another school and instantly stands out to Henry because she walks with limp, uses a cane, and wears over-sized clothing that has typically been thought of as boys' clothing
Once Grace arrives, the story really seemed to belong to her more than Henry. There's mystery surrounding her because she won't talk about the accident, or where she disappears to most afternoons, and while she'll edit the school paper, she will not write anything. Henry's whole world starts to revolve around Grace, and so too does the narrative.
Henry's crush was very realistic. His thoughts are consumed by Grace, he starts liking the music he thinks she likes, he wants to spend time with her, he wants to know she feels the same. As things progress he even envisions marrying her. A lot of readers will be able to relate to this obsession. But, I never had a clear image of who Henry was before Grace came into his life, and I think I would have connected with him more if I'd been able to get to know him first.
Henry also reminded me of another fictional Henry, that is Henry Jones from Cath Crowley's Words in Deep Blue. Both boys are romantic and hopeful to a fault. Each of them cling to any scrap of attention or affection with all their might, even when it's clear to friends they're clueless.
I enjoyed the secondary characters, particularly Lola who always stepped in to tell the boys when they were out of line. And while I know Murray has been popular with some readers, he seemed a bit too much of a caricature to me and I didn't find him to be believable. Henry's parents were hilarious and their scenes were always fun to read.
My other issue were two occasions where Henry describes Grace as a beautiful femme-fatale and then adds that she looked like a 'heroin addict risen from the dead', or 'someone who'd overdosed on heroin and been bought back to life'. This puzzled me each time - is heroin addiction something that teens romanticise and find sexy? For something that is so serious I found the remarks quite flippant.
Our Chemical Hearts is a love story with a difference. It's not easy, it's not typical, and it's not the sort of love story that readers will be expecting, but it will resonate. Fans of Life in Outer Space, Words in Deep Blue, and contemporary YA in general, will enjoy this cast of characters and the world in which they live.
Ableist language: lame, insane, maniac, crazy.
Thank you to Penguin for my review copy.
Cover design: Theresa Evangelista and Bruno Herfst
I love this cover, it's simple yet striking, and so far it's the same in each country which will make the book easy to recognise. There is something really soothing about painting fish and I enjoyed this manicure a lot.
I started with a base of white polish and use acrylic paint for the fish.