Liv Bloom’s life is even more complicated than that of your average fourteen-year-old: her father walked out on the family when she was young, her mother is in a recovery centre for alcoholics, and her older sister is struggling to step into their mum’s shoes. The only person she can turn to is her best friend Sarah, who gets out of scrapes at school and is a constant source of advice and companionship.
One day Liv discovers a book of recipes written in her mum’s handwriting, which sets her off on a journey towards self-discovery and reconciliation — but a theft, a love rivalry and a school bully are just some of the many obstacles in the way.
Structured around real cake recipes, Caramel Hearts is a coming-of-age novel about love, disappointment and hope, and discovering the true value of friends and family, no matter how dysfunctional they are.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Caramel Hearts and it wasn’t a book I’d heard of before, but when I got an email from the lovely people at Bloomsbury Australia asking if I’d like to review this book and interview the author, I knew that was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up. So I did a little snooping on Goodreads about it and when I read that it was structured around real recipes and thus is the perfect book for everyone who loves reading and food — which, let’s be honest, is all of us — and so I couldn’t wait to get into it. And that cover’s absolutely gorgeous, am I right? I can guarantee you that it’s just as beautiful on the inside. Caramel Hearts is a book you just have to pick up.
So when I read the synopsis which said that Caramel Hearts is ‘structured around real recipes’, I wasn’t really sure what that meant. Was it just going to talk about cooking and food? Would there be recipes inside the book that you could actually use to make food? I had no idea. But I think this aspect is a really important part of the book. Not only does it make Caramel Hearts stand out from everything I’ve read before because at the end of some chapters there are recipes of the things that our characters are making and eating, but we also learn the significance of cooking and the power it holds to bring people together.
Needless to say, this novel made me very hungry. All the recipes sounded delicious and I could almost taste the sugary mixes and smell the aromas of perfectly-baked — though sometimes burnt — cakes and other sweet snacks. I’m fairly terrible in the kitchen, but reading Caramel Hearts made me think that maybe I should give baking a try again. The only thing that would make this book even sweeter and more delicious that it already is to have someone bake me the foods from the recipe while I was reading it! But I think vicariously experiencing all of the sweet treats Liv made was pretty fantastic anyway.
My favourite aspect of Caramel Hearts was definitely getting to know all the characters. This novel is one that is phenomenal because of the way the reader is invited into the lives of these people and gets to know them over the course of this beautiful journey. Liv was a particularly interesting character. She’s torn between wanting to stop being picked on and staying friends with the girl who’s always stood by her. She’s struggling to cope with her mother’s alcohol problems and fears her sister leaving her alone with their mother and going back to collage. And she’s trying to make a life for herself without a clear idea of who she is or what her purpose is.
The sibling relationship was beautifully told in this book, and it was another one of my favourite elements. As I’m an only child, I felt like Caramel Hearts really allowed me to experience what a close bond between two sisters felt like. Even though they fought and said things they didn’t mean to one another occasionally, they were still always there for one another and I knew that there was no one in the world they cared for more than each other. In that way, this novel portrayed its characters not as perfect, flawless dolls, but as real, imperfect people who seemed to step right off the page.
While Caramel Hearts is about friendship and first love and the importance of family, it’s as much about those things as it is about the impact of bullying, what not knowing who your father is really feels like, and feeling as though your family is being ripped apart in front of your eyes. There are a lot of important themes in this novel and while it might seem like it’s overfilled with messages and tales of woe in order to make the reader shed a tear of two, all of these key ideas intertwine and come together to form an unforgettable tale that will stay with me for quite a while.
Even though there might be sweet treats scattered throughout this book, what I found was that nothing about Caramel Hearts was sugarcoated. There are some pretty tough matters that this novel touches upon and it’s evident that some of these are quite close to the author’s heart, but everything is told in the realest possible way and it doesn’t shy away from the dark and gritty moments. In that way, I have so much respect for Murray as she not only dares to write about such sensitive issues, but does so in a way that shows she’s unafraid to shed light on the topics we don’t see enough of in YA. But what defines this novel is its ability to portray that we don’t have to fight our battles alone and that hope gives us strength.
A dollop of family, a generous spoonful of friendship and a pinch of heartbreak is what makes Caramel Hearts the beautiful coming-of-age novel it is. This is a book that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, and I honestly can’t recommend it enough.
Have you had the chance to read Caramel Hearts yet? Have you ever read anything that uses food or recipes in a similar way as it’s used in this novel? Do you like baking? Are you a fan of coming-of-age novels? What are you reading at the moment? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Bloomsbury Australia and E.R. Murray for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!
Title: Caramel Hearts
Publication date: July 2016
Australian RRP: $19.99