*This review will contain spoilers!*
First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Hot Key Books for accepting my request to access this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
"I like to have answers ready when people ask me about myself. I mean, if I don't know who I am, how is anyone else ever supposed to?"
'I always thought the moment you met the great love of your life would be more like the movies. Not exactly like the movies, obviously, with the slow-mo and the hair blowing in the breeze and the swelling instrumental soundtrack. But I at least thought there would be something.'Oh no.
When I read this first paragraph, that was the first thing that popped into my head. I thought I was going to be reading something cliched, stuffed to the brim with instalove, and utterly unbearable.
I was both right and wrong.
When Grace walks into Henry's drama class, he doesn't know she's going to be his first love. With her greasy and unwashed hair, dirty boy's clothes and limp (complete with cane), she's not the stereotypical description of attractiveness. When she gets offered position of co-editor on the school newspaper - the position he's been working his ass off to achieve for the last few years - he's irritated: how can she move to the school in senior year and be awarded such a lucrative position?
But Grace turns the job down, and Henry's confused and angry. He thinks she's being selfish for declining something she was so lucky to be offered in the first place, and he chases her down and convinces her to take the position despite her misgivings.
Confusingly enough, Grace offers him a lift home: condition being that he must drive himself in her car. When they get to his house she gets out and starts walking in the opposite direction to her home, leaving her car abandoned on his driveway. Typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl behaviour.
Grace's enigmatic attitude and air of mystery draw Henry to her. He wants to have all of the answers about who she is, where she goes, what happened in her past that gave her a limp and made her switch to a new school in the final year. His best friends Lola and Murray both think him pursuing her is a terrible idea, but Henry will not be dissuaded.
He's determined to piece together the puzzle of Grace's past and restore her to the girl that she used to be - a girl that he only knows through old posts and photos on her Facebook - but will he like what he discovers, or will it tear their blossoming relationship apart?
'Our Chemical Hearts' is a problematic fave.
At times I was so angry I almost stopped reading it, but something about Krystal Sutherland's writing made me keep reading despite irritating quotes like
'It could get easier. Grace could get better. She could go back to the girl she'd been before, in time. The girl I caught glimpses of sometimes'and
'Grace was happy and she'd brushed her hair and there was no way I was going to miss out on spending time with this version of her'.DO YOU SEE WHY I WAS GETTING ANNOYED?! He's so adamant that he's in love with this girl, telling her that he doesn't want her to change and he loves her for who she is, and then he's fantasizing about fixing her. FOR GOD'S SAKE, HENRY!
I'm not rating it five stars for the plot or the characters, but for the beautiful writing style. Krystal Sutherland has a gift. I've read some amazing debut novels this year - Sara Barnard's 'Beautiful Broken Things' being the one that automatically springs to mind - and this is up there with the best of them. The lengthy philosophical quotes about love and loss; the inclusion of Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of fixing things... It feels like a John Green novel.
In fact, it reminds me of 'Severed Heads, Broken Hearts' by Robyn Schneider (also known as 'The Beginning of Everything'), which I hated. 'Our Chemical Hearts' is everything I wanted that book to be.
I'm going to be honest: I've been in Henry's position before, certain I could fix someone just because I loved them. Spoiler alert - IT DOESN'T WORK! It never does. You need to love someone for who they are, taking the bad with the good, not trying to change them into the dream version you've crafted in your head. It meant that even though I was annoyed that he was trying to fix her, I understood that he thought he had her best interests at heart. Even though I found it aggravating, I could relate to it, and Krystal wrote his hopeless desperation to do something - anything - to help her in a heart-wrenching way. He genuinely can't understand what he's doing wrong which, yes, makes him an idiot, but also shows the innocent naivety of first love and the belief that having feelings for someone can make everything golden in their life.
I'm not going to give too much away about the plot, because the beauty of this book is how naturally the story unfolds. Based on Grace's limp and her reluctance to drive I'm pretty sure you've already gathered that she was in a car crash, but her backstory isn't as straightforward as that.
I was very torn between 4 and 5 stars for this book, but I needed to give it 5. Yes, it was problematic, but I liked it more than most of the books I've read this year (and having read over 150, that's saying something!).
It's going to divide opinions: a lot of people are going to be like me and fall head over heels in love with it, while there's going to be a huge amount of people that thinks it's trash. The best YA books normally cause conflict in the community, and I can already feel it brewing around this one based on the advanced reviews.
This book isn't even out yet (just a couple more days...) and I'm already eagerly anticipating Krystal Sutherland's next novel. I think I've just found myself a new favourite author.