Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release Date: October 4th 2016
Buy The Book: Book Depository
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.
Our Chemical Hearts was the October read for those of us at The Book Club! There may be a few itty bitty things that are spoilery in this review, so if you don't want to know anything plot-wise, then it might be wise to avoid scrolling down!
This story follows Henry Page from the moment that new girl, Grace Town, arrives at his school. When the two of them end up working together on the school paper, he finds himself fascinated by her and her mysterious past. When he finds out that the place Grace has been disappearing to each day is the cemetery, he discovers that she is grieving the death of her childhood best friend and boyfriend.
I'll be honest, I went into this book wary. The mixed reactions from fellow bloggers whose opinions I often agree with left me wondering if this was the type of book I'd enjoy, but I pushed the varied reviews aside when I started reading it so that I could judge it for myself. Unfortunately, I was right to be apprehensive because this book definitely wasn't for me.
My main issue with this story was the lead character, Henry. His dialogue and inner thoughts didn't connect with me at all, and I found some moments a little inappropriate. Obviously grief is a strong theme within this book, but to me it wasn't handled very well. Whenever there were genuine shows of raw emotion from Grace, Henry would think or say something ridiculous that took that emotion away from the moment. One instance of this is when he decides to be open with Grace about his feelings for her, and discovers for the first time that her boyfriend died. Because he's put his foot in his mouth, whilst she's talking to him all he thinks is about researching methods of suicide to get himself out of the embarrassing situation. I'm assuming comments like that one were supposed to be read as witty, another quirky part of Henry's personality, but it just made me uncomfortable. The tongue-in-cheek attitude didn't work for me. It felt like throughout the whole story, he was trying to make the situation about him. Yes, Grace used him as a rebound, and no that wasn't an okay thing to do, but Henry was equally as guilty of acting like a fool.
Aside from Henry, the characters in general just didn't work for me. The only character who I was interested in knowing more about was Henry's best friend, Lola Leung, but even with her I had problems. She is described as the 'diversity triple threat' because she's a lesbian and a POC. On one hand, yay for some diversity, on the other hand, throwing it all into one character and then making a quirky joke about it felt like cheating. It felt to me that Lola, like a lot of the characters in this book, existed more to tick boxes than to actually add to the story.
The plot itself, whilst trying to be relatable and have a unique edge, felt more 'been there, done that'. I didn't find anything in these characters or this plot to set it apart from other stories by similar authors. The dealing of grief in this book also let me down. Grief and the effect it has on people is something that can be written about beautifully in YA (see for example: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson), but I feel as though any real heartfelt emotion was overshadowed.
What I will say is that there were some aspects of the ending that I really enjoyed because it was honest and believable, but by that point I'd already had enough of the book. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would adore this story. For one, our book club was completely split on it, with some of us loving it and a few of us disliking it, so it made for a great discussion. It just wasn't right for me at the moment. This is a book that I probably would have lapped up a few years ago (back when I wanted to devour anything John Green related), but now I'm tired of characters like Henry Page.