Published October 4th 2016 by Hot Key Books
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, romance
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“I always thought the moment you met the great love of your life would be more like the movies.”
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.
Why is it that I feel that I’ve waited too long for a book like this, with characters like these? I wish I had read it as soon as I saw it on the shelves, but I have to thank my lovely friend and fellow book blogger Nihaad from Read and Seek, for inspiring me with her review to go out and buy this book immediately. I was not disappointed. If you feel so inclined, go and read her review here.
Part of my excitement in the run up to reading this was from finding out that it has a male narrator. I love male narrators. And Henry Isaac Page has got to be up there with the best. He is my kind of character. He feels that his expression is more natural when written on paper than spoken out loud. He isn’t seeking a relationship, and gives good thought to why he is single/why this is a good or bad thing. He likes to learn, and he wants to be editor of the school newspaper. Need I say more? He’s a character I’d be proud to have written.
In fact, ALL the characters in this book are worth praising. And I mean, all. This is probably one of the only YA books I’ve read where I can remember who all the characters are and what makes them unique and likable. They all have their own personalities and I could honestly imagine them to be real, fleshed out human beings.
The main female character Grace, and Henry’s love-interest, isn’t your typical girl. What struck me is that she wore male clothing and walked with a cane. But this isn’t just a case of her being a tomboy and having a leg injury…I won’t disclose the reasons behind her appearance, but the point is that Henry has a natural curiosity towards her, and they fall into friendship in such a way that made me want to eat the book up during the first half.
Right. Relationships and unconventionality. Funnily enough, when I was a ‘young adult’ i.e. in my teenage years, I didn’t read these books. I think young adults these days are very lucky to have the kind of books they do, because I wish I’d had them when I was at school. Grace asks Henry if he’s ever had a girlfriend, and being someone who is pro-single (is that a thing?) I loved his reasons:
“I don’t mind being alone, I like it actually. I’ve been surrounded by teenagers who are always in and out of these dramatic, toxic relationships and that’s never held any appeal for me.”
Ok, so what I really want is an asexual main character, but this is a step in the right direction for me, because Henry highlighted that it’s okay if you don’t want to be in a relationship, or if you prefer being alone. He also shows that it’s okay to feel that way and then want to be with someone anyway.
I loved the way their friendship grew, and by being so well-written, it didn’t seem like the friendship had formed too suddenly. It felt right for me as a reader as it did for them as two people who had just found one another. But you can tell from the very first line of this book that you’re not going to read a typical love story. This is VERY far from typical, and it was unpredictable in the best of ways. There are so many angles I could take on this: we have a lesbian main character (Henry’s best friend, La), we have a single mother (Henry’s sister, Sadie), and we have a contemporary setting which makes references to modern things like Snapchat and terms like YOLO and ‘on fleek’ (I hate them both, but so do the characters!). I particularly like the inclusion of Facebook messenger chats, it was a really nice touch to get me really involved in the story.
But, and there is but. I’ve given this book 4/5 stars. So why did I knock that final star off? Let me share a couple of quotes with you that I had to frown about:
“No, you’re a weirdo. Sex is a basic human function. Do you have trouble talking about breathing or blinking?”
“I mean, sex is not a big deal, but it’s not a big deal, you know?”
How can sex be compared to breathing or blinking? We all breath and blink, they are the most natural of natural things we do. They are automatic and we couldn’t help doing them if we tried. Sex is absolutely not like that. It’s not a basic human function. I’ve gone 22, nearly 23 years without it and I’m doing just fine thanks. And I’m no weirdo.
And I think it is a big deal. Sharing yourself completely with another person in such an intimate way, when you like being alone? That’s a big deal, it’s a big step to take, and it’s not enough to brush sex off as something that just happens. Too often it is treated like a rite of passage for teenagers. I want a book that accepts that sex is a part of life, yes, but that it is different for a lot of people, and in some cases people don’t want it because it’s actually unnatural to them.
But that aside, I loved this book and I didn’t want it to end. My new favourite words are ‘pagination’ and ‘wantonness’ and I wish I could read this book all over again for the first time.
Link to the book on Goodreads: Our Chemical Hearts