I first came across Krystal Sutherland’s work when I was given early ARC access to her second book A Semi Definitive List of Worst Nightmares last year, and I was insanely impressed. I genuinely loved that book. So I was a little nervous about starting this because this was Sutherland’s debut novel and debuts aren’t always that great. But I’m pleased to say that my high hopes were met and, dare I say, exceeded!
Our Chemical Hearts is a deceptively deep read yet it can easily be read in one sitting! Not because the word count is low or anything, it’s just so encapsulating.
One of the best things about this YA novel is that it actually addresses YA issues, rather than presenting some over-blown stereotype and trying to make it relatable (and no, I’m not talking about fantasy YA, I’m talking about the bullshit John Green wants you to believe is normal for the average, semi-socially awkward, working-middle class and oh-so-quirky teenager).
A prime example of this is that we explore the concept of falling in love with the idea of a person, or a ‘best case scenario’ version of a person, rather than the person themselves. This is something I think that a lot of people (let alone teenagers) struggle with at some point in their lives. It can be incredibly painful and the astounding realism around this subject in this book was amazing to see. The metaphor revolving around kintsukuroi was unbelievable beautiful. For those who know what the Japanese art of kintsukuroi is, you’ll understand the beauty – for those who don’t know, I won’t spoil it.
“Look up at that, honestly, and tell me you believe that our lives are anything more than a ridiculous cascade of random chances.”
The relationships in this book are so real – it’s utterly refreshing and I can’t praise Krystal Sutherland enough for this. And the best thing is, it’s not limited to just the romantic relationships! Whilst the romances are believable for actual real-life people for a change, it’s the friendships and familial relationships that really shine through, especially between Henry and Sadie (who I absolutely adored by the way!).
The writing is great throughout the book, it’s emotive yet real, and the voice of Henry, our narrator, is perfect. However, I do feel like the novel is a bit too ‘referency’ at times. There are loads of parts where the characters mentioned or spoke in memes or quotes from films (like Anchorman) that I think will date the book earlier than is necessary. The story could be tieless, but references are a bit of a risk.
“I got the distinct impression that Madison Carlson did not hate him – not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.”
The story is depressing, thought provoking, shattering, funny, enthralling and quirky all at the same time and I think the style of ending is something that YA is missing and needs more of. But don’t worry if you think this might be a bit bleak, Our Chemical Hearts is just as funny as it is heart-breaking, I was laughing out loud at times.
I also need to talk about the characters, because so far you know I like Henry, and you know I love Sadie and for the most part the rest of the ‘supporting cast’ were really great too, but our second main character – Grace Town (yes…*sigh*…you read that right) is a different kettle of fish. I hated Grace, but the best bit about it is that I don’t hate her because she’s poorly written or ill-conceived – far from it! I hate her because of who she is – if she were a real person I wouldn’t be able to stand her. Allow me to talk directly to Grace for a second…YOUR PAIN DOES NOT GIVE YOU A FREE PASS TO HURT OTHERS AROUND YOU, YOU SELFISH ARSEHOLE!
“Because you’re worth nothing less than stardust, but all I can give you is dirt.”
I know that Grace clearly has some severe issues that she needs to work through, but she is a fucking head case. She needed a lot of help and the only bit I really struggled to genuinely believe throughout the whole story is how no adult in the story recognised that Grace needed serious and intensive psychiatric help and made that happen for her. She’s a child…she seriously needed adult intervention and it never happened.
On top of this, I think there is enough personality coming through Grace to come to the conclusion that she wasn’t the nicest or most moral person to begin with – at least that’s the vibe I personally got. But don’t worry about Grace being a ‘Margo’ from Paper Towns– she’s not (thank fuck for that), but she is quite frustrating at times.
“No more pain. No more exhaustion. Death is the reward for having lived.”
But in the end Our Chemical Hearts is a brilliant novel and an outstanding debut for Krystal Sutherland. It’s visceral, it’s real and it’s relatable. I sincerely hope it’s the future of contemporary YA.
“Maybe we were both in love with ideas.”
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.