Henry Page has never been in love. He thinks of himself as a hopeless romantic, but the slow-motion, heart racing, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t happened to him yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a 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 finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious that there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry. 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.
This is a spoiler-free ARC review. Our Chemical Hearts won’t be available in stores until October 3rd!
It’s pretty hard to not let the abundance of praise for this book get to you. Before getting my hands on a copy, I’d known about this book for months. I couldn’t stop seeing people raving about it on Twitter and fighting over ARCs. The strange this is that I didn’t even really know what this book was about before asking for a copy from Penguin. Okay, it was more like I begged for a copy. I just had to get my hands on this book and see what all the hype was about. But because of all the hype surrounding this quirky little book with blue fish on the cover, I had immensely high expectations. I was expecting something phenomenal, and that’s exactly what I got. Not only was this book exactly what the synopsis promised, John Green meets Rainbow Rowell (which, in my eyes, is the ultimate duo), Our Chemical Hearts has been one of my favourite reads of the year. I wouldn’t even be surprised if it ended up taking first place.
I must admit, there’s a lot of books that say they’re ‘the love child of John Green and Rainbow Rowell’, and with that statement comes a lot of responsibility. Because these two authors are so loved and well-known by readers worldwide, to compare a novel two the incredible works of these two people isn’t something that should be done lightly. In that aspect, I was a little worried that this would be another clichéd love story with a character that’s try-hard quirky. But to label a debut novel as ‘John Green meets Rainbow Rowell’? Surely this was just a ploy by the publisher to sell more copies? However, I quickly realised this was no ploy. But even though this novel was quite reminiscent of some of the works by John Green and Rainbow Rowell, the author has successfully developed her own unique style and, in culmination with the adopting of a couple of stylistic elements of these other sensational novelists, I believe she has written a piece of prose that will go one to become one of the most beloved YA contemporaries of all time.
One of my favourite aspects of the novel was the use of pop culture and technology. There are so many references to some of the latest apps and current trends, and it was really nice to see an author use and embrace these things, rather than attempt to create a whole new world for the characters. As this is a contemporary, it makes sense that it should draw upon some of the things that are happening right now in pop culture and the world around us, however a lot of the time we see authors hesitant to name-drop products or people — for fear of incorrect endorsement, maybe? Anyhow, these references never failed to make me laugh and further established the authentic voices of the characters. I also particularly liked the inclusion of texts between Henry and Grace in bubble format, which again helped create such genuine character voices and also provided the occasional break in the traditional structure of prose.
I completely fell in love with the characters in Our Chemical Hearts. What was most spectacular about them was how unique they each were. They all had their quirks and imperfections, distinctive characteristics, and there were moments when I wanted to either hug them or slap them. There was also quite a lot of representation in this novel, which was lovely to see. But what I loved most about the characters was the way they interacted with one another. The jokes they made, the way they both annoyed one another and supported one another, and how they felt so vivid and real was part of what made this book so extraordinary. I felt like I was getting to know real people. These aren’t just one-dimensional characters who could be neatly categorised or slotted into a particular stereotype; their lives were messy and complicated, and that’s what made me connect with them in the way that I did. I empathised with these characters from the very beginning and it was so beautiful to have them take me on an equally tragic and heartwarming journey towards understanding what love truly is.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Our Chemical Hearts was the emphasis on the difference between falling in love with a person, and falling in love with the idea of a person. In that way, it was reminiscent of Paper Towns by John Green, whereby the protagonist thinks he loves a girl when he doesn’t really know who she is — he’s simply in love with the idea of her and the mystery that seems to surround her. The dose of reality this novel offered enabled us to realise how we so often fall in love with the person who we want to see, not who they actually are. Perhaps that’s the most dangerous type of love of all. It isn’t just dangerous because you’ll end up falling for someone who doesn’t exist, but also because doing this effectively objectifies the person you’ve attached a picture to and makes them the product of your imagination. It was particularly interesting to see the references to the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl (or Boy)’, and while Grace didn’t really fit that trope, we were again reminded of the risk of seeing someone as more than just person and how love isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.
Ultimately, Our Chemical Hearts is a realistic and honest portrayal of love and heartbreak which allows the reader to realise the difference between falling in love with a person and falling in love with the idea of a person. Not only was this one of my favourite books of the year, it’s a book whose unique characters and undying messages will stay with me for a long time to come. I can’t recommend this powerful and poignant novel enough.
Were you lucky enough to receive an ARC of Our Chemical Hearts? Does this sound like a book you might enjoy? Are you a fan of John Green or Rainbow Rowell? What do you think of the idea of Manic Pixie Dream People? Let me know down below!
Thanks to Penguin Australia for providing me with an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!