Title: Our Chemical Hearts
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Published: October 4th, 2016
Length: 322 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Henry Page, a hopeless romantic and film buff, is smitten as soon as Grace Town walks into his classroom. But Grace – who looks in need of a good bath, is dressed in guy’s clothing, and walks with a cane – is unlike any leading lady he’s ever obsessed over. And when Henry and Grace are both offered positions as editors of their high school newspaper, the mystery of Grace begins to captivate him. Why does she visit a graveyard every afternoon? What secret does she keep locked away in her bedroom? Above all, why is Grace Town so deeply sad? Before he knows it, Henry is sure that he is the one to unlock her happiness. But Grace is capricious, changeable, infuriating, and, above all, damaged. Henry will need to be the strongest he has ever been to survive this particular love story.
“The greatest love story ever told doesn’t have to be about two people who spent their whole lives together. It might be about a love that lasted two weeks or two months or two years, but burned brighter and hotter and more brilliantly than any other love before or after.”
I picked up this book just because I’ve been curious. Note in mind that I didn’t hear about the plot or even what kind of rep it had, I just thought: This sounds like a classic YA kinda book so I read it. Of course, I had my “I’m rolling my eyes so badly” moments mostly because 1) I’m a terribly jealous person… Just kidding, I just don’t relate that easily to characters unless they’re Molly Peskin-Suso… Anyhow, I am proud that I gave this a chance.
Our Chemical Hearts is a cool debut novel to begin with. It fell into the same categorization that people who write blurbs love to put books into: a book child of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. I’ve read both those authors and I agree that this book reminds me a lot of these two but not quite. Sutherland definitely has her own writing style that comes off very… earnest. Henry Page, her main character, is a teenage boy who sounds very much like a teenager. Disclaimer that I don’t know how teenagers should sound like since I am not a teenager myself but he felt relatable since I’m a young person who is on the internet a lot. I liked Sutherland’s style, it was chunky at times and awkward but felt somewhat real. I especially liked the notes in which she added a little of where her references came, it felt sweet. Call me sentimental but that kind of thing always makes me smile. I’m happy Sutherland got this book out to the world; it could make someone happy.
Henry Page is somewhat of a people’s person and that’s what I liked a lot about this book. He had strong familial ties as well as good friends. His best friend Lola was especially memorable since she outright identified Grace as belonging to the Magic Pixie Dream Girl archetype and proceeded to tell Henry that he should get out of his teenage-boy head and actually realize it.
“Most girls—” I began.
Lola snapped up her hand. “Be very careful what you say next, Henry Page,” she said. “Very few good things come out of sentences that begin with ‘Most girls.’”
“This is true,” Grace agreed.
I liked how at times I thought: this is so messed up, then read a couple of lines where some characters actually voiced out my worries. Grace Town was obviously grieving, she showed obvious signs that she needed help and I liked how Sutherland didn’t try and push the idea that “Love Can Save You From Your Sadness.” I agree that the usage of word damaged got on my nerves a little but somehow as I was reading Henry’s point of view, I could feel his frustration and I worried a bit that he’d somehow continue to try and fix her but I was glad that the side characters could see into how the two couldn’t really work out. I liked that Grace was aware of how little she cared for herself and I’d have appreciated some mention of her actually seeking out help instead of go on adventures and talk in riddles about the universe and how ‘death seems like a reward for living,’ since that for me, a depressed person, seemed like such a romanticized idea about death.
“I mean, she takes Henry on an adventure to an abandoned railway station filled with fish and then talks about the universe? Real people don’t do that.“
Is this diverse? Honestly… Not really. I mean there is one lesbian character who is Lola and she’s also half Haitian and half Chinese. There is a line where Henry mentions how Lola is used in all of the school’s advertisement and I guess it’s cool how they realize how they use her as a triple thread of diversity.
Trigger warning for a very explicit mention of a car accident in chapter 19 so watch out for that.
Now let’s talk about why this is four stars and not five. For one, I didn’t like how in the beginning, Grace was mentioned as to be using a cane and I felt like the way Henry handled it felt a bit crass. I know, I know, he’s a teenage boy but he seemed smart enough not to fixate on this girl’s cane. I just thought of someone who is disabled reading this and going; wow, is that all anyone would think if they saw me? and I felt bad.
Another thing is how Henry’s older sister Sadie had dreadlocks. This woman is obviously white so I don’t know why she was never called out for appropriating culture. I just couldn’t stomach it because Henry obviously idolized his older sister.
Overall: cute book, cute story, very important message about grief and how falling for someone’s idea is not the greatest thing to do, had funny moments and I think it would translate well to any teen picking it up.
Has anyone picked OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS up or is considering picking it up?