This book is about heartache (duh), but it might not be the heartache you expect. I thought I had this book pegged as an insipid teen romance, and there won’t be much to convince you that there is anything more for the first 30% of the book. Readers who stick this one out will be glad they did because this is really about the bigger heartaches of growing up and realizing the people you thought you could always depend on and trust might be changed by their own heartaches and natural disasters (see what I did there?). This was a four star read.
A page-turning young-adult novel told from the alternating voices of two witty, sharp-edged teenage girls who compete for a role in the school production of Hamlet and for the same local bad boy, in a game of deception, betrayal, and sword play.
When fifteen-year-old Julia Epstein and her Anglophone family flee Montreal in October 1970, she struggles to adjust to a new life in the suburban wasteland of North York, Toronto. Next door lives Carla Cabrielli, who works her “assets” and knows how to get what she wants. Julia and Carla get on a collision course, not only for the same role in the school production of Hamlet, but also for the leading man – sword-wielding bad boy and sex magnet, Ian Slater. Heartache and Other Natural Shocks explores teen rivalry. When events take a dangerous turn, both Julia and Carla become vulnerable to deception and betrayal. Full of unexpected twist and turns, Glenda Leznoff’s unique novel marks the debut of an important new voice in young-adult fiction.
I’m going to tell it like it is. The beginning of this book was a trial for me. Carla is a mean girl and she made me want to punch her in the throat. It was bad enough that I stopped reading and didn’t pick this back up until my obligation to review became pressing. I’m glad I gave this book a second chance. It was a lot more than just a light read about teen love. There was a lot of depth about love in general and about growing up and getting wiser to the world in the process. I never really liked Carla, but at some point, I began to see her vulnerabilities and how they were driving her just like we are all driven. Julia, on the other hand, wasn’t a hard character for me to relate to from the start, but she got fierce near the end of the book, and I think lots of readers will want to experience that moment. Secondary characters are nuanced and some are delightful. I certainly picked up on a few themes we all could benefit from remembering – being a knockout doesn’t always guarantee a happy romance, and even though something has a pretty facade, you never know what is really going on beneath the window dressing. I think this book has universal appeal, despite the 70’s setting which can be quite distancing and despite Carla the Obnoxious, because it really deals with that moment in time when you realize that your parents may not be the people you always thought they were. It’s a tough moment to see one of your idols eclipsed, and it is an inevitable moment in most of our lives. As an English teacher, I particularly enjoyed the way Hamlet was a pivotal part of the story – a lot of times school assignments in YA fiction feel fabricated from a required reading list, but this one actually incorporates the play in a meaningful way that will pique reader interest in both works. Overall, I think this is a very thoughtful and moving book, and I would recommend it to my high school readers. I would love to pair it with a Hamlet as a class assignment, but the sensuality is a little too detailed and the language is a little too much for a required reading, even if I consider it appropriate for high school readers. I think adults can enjoy this book as much as the target audience, particularly those who feel nostalgic about the 1970’s, but they will have to navigate through the first part of the book, which might be initially difficult for more discerning readers.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.