Title: Our Chemical Hearts
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (Penguin)
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“Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.
Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.”
This book is billed as “John Green meets Rainbow Rowell” and honestly, that should have been enough to trigger alarm bells in my head. It’s not a secret that I’m no fan of John Green’s books, and the comparison that is all-too frequently applied to YA contemporaries these days usually signals that I’m about to be underwhelmed.
Enter Henry, our basic white boy protagonist, unexceptional save for his interest in the school newspaper and his quirky band of family and friends. His posse includes an Australian best friend (because, sure), a feminist lesbian other best friend (#diversity), and a brilliant older sister who’s always around to conveniently dole out advice on life and love (probably a former MPDG herself).
Yes, you can already tell that I’m salty about this book and I’ll be honest, it’s not gonna let up.
Enter Grace, who wears boys’ clothes and uses a cane, but still manages to capture Henry’s affections. Lucky Grace. But don’t worry, Grace isn’t some Manic Pixie Dream Girl! She’s more of a Manic Pixie Depressed Girl, because she’s like super broken and Henry can totally fix her with his love. Henry then proceeds to fall in love with, and become obsessed to the point of STALKING, Grace even though she is clearly going through Stuff and is not in a good place. Henry even acknowledges at one point that Grace probably needs some help, and then does NOTHING but keep pursuing her. I just…sigh.
The way that Grace’s situation was dealt with, or rather not dealt with, was so disappointing. I can’t site the specific example I want to because it’s major spoilers, but there’s no reason why the adults in her life wouldn’t have stepped in at some point. Several moments in this book made me deeply uncomfortable, and I will admit that things ended up being much more serious (and honestly, messed up) than I had ever expected. The ending, or at least what Sutherland tried to say, was probably the strongest part of this story. Unfortunately it was pretty much lost in the 300-something pages of this underwhelming contemporary that tried way too hard.
This is my biggest gripe with Our Chemical Hearts – it tries too hard. Nothing about this book felt natural, from the characters to premise or even the reading experience itself. Our Chemical Hearts read like a desperate, overzealous attempt at writing a book worthy of a John Green comparison. It may have been too successful, because this felt like yet another reiteration of the same basic, tired John Green storyline. White boy becomes obsessed with a MPDG and drags his crew of quirky friends along for the ride while learning some valuable life lessons. This is a story I’m no longer interested in reading.
There’s so much potential in Our Chemical Hearts. I wonder if switching to Grace’s perspective would have made it more successful, or just not worked at all. Ultimately this was unimpressive and unenjoyable, and I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re a major fan of this type of story.
Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️
*I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for a free & honest review.