Book Review: “Our Chemical Hearts” by Krystal Sutherland (#AWW2017 #LoveOzYA @km_sutherland @ReadingsBooks)

 

Krystal Sutherland’s Our Chemical Hearts (Penguin Books, October 2016) is one of six titles shortlisted for the inaugural Readings Young Adult Book Prize, which celebrates emerging voices in Australian youth literature. Four months before this book was published, Awesomeness Films acquired the rights to adapt it into a film.

In Our Chemical Hearts, we encounter one of the most unforgettable characters in Australian YA literature. Grace Town is a broken girl, both physically and emotionally. However, her brilliance – as well as her weirdness and stubbornness – captures the heart of Henry Page, a high school newspaper editor and aspiring writer, and it is through his eyes that we see how Grace struggles to survive in a way that she alone sees fits.

Henry is doomed from the start. It sounds disrespectful, but as we suffer with him along the way, we see the reason why a romantic relationship can turn from bad to worse when the two parties involved are particularly intelligent people. Instead of simply feeling heartbroken, their souls suffer. And the more fiercely they fight against their own emotions, the more clearly they see how futile their efforts are.

Hence Our Chemical Hearts is not an ordinary first-love-is-an-epic-disaster story. Cleverly constructed and flowing exceedingly well, it is at once funny and heart-wrenching, with the author knowing exactly what to say and when in order to engage today’s young readers of diverse socio-economic backgrounds. All of this could be indicating Sutherland’s natural talents as a writer, or it might be a result of inhumanly diligent research and editing. I am inclined to assume the former, although the author does admit in her Notes at the end of the book that her “[pop culture] references are out of control”. It would have also taken an extremely experienced and passionate editor to handle this book so well.

Again it may sound disrespectful, but Our Chemical Hearts reminds me of Erich Segal’s Love Story (1970) and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (2012) – except for the fact that both Henry and Grace get to live. Henry also gets to have a flawed but wonderful family – what a lucky young man he is. Still, I cannot help but wonder whether there could be another girl, after Grace, that deserves his fascination and love…

You can find more information about Krystal Sutherland’s Our Chemical Hearts here and here.

 

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