April 30, 2013

Review: The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

It's difficult to resist the siren song of an as-yet-unread contemporary author, isn't it? For the most part, I tend to dip into those waters with caution. Sometimes I make out like gangbusters. And others I wind up feeling as though I was force-fed treacle, or that I was curiously emptied while reading the book rather than filled. I tell myself it's worth it, though, to find those gems that make your blood pump and the tips of your fingers tingle. I tell myself it's worth the racing anticipation and the occasional deep disappointment. And it is. Even if an author's entire bibliography doesn't work for you. It's worth it if that one, perfect match does. Cause then you get to hold onto it for the rest of your reading life, and pull it out and revisit those characters and that place and those moments whenever you need them. All of which is a rather long winded way of explaining how I found myself giving Sarah Ockler a try for the first time. I wasn't too drawn by her previous titles, but the well-nigh universal love for her latest, The Book of Broken Hearts, persuaded me it was time to dip my toes in those waters again.

Jude Hernandez has spent her entire life living in the wake of her three older sisters. Now that they've all gone the way of the wind, pursuing their own lives across the country, Jude feels it's only fair she have her turn. After all, she just graduated from high school. She has one single, solitary summer before it's off to college and more buckling down. She's always been the good girl, following her sisters' advice to the letter, certainly never getting tangled up with a Vargas boy the way two of her three older sibs did. That road only leads to ruin, they told her, in the voice of bitter, bitter experience. But it isn't to be. The easy, breezy summer or the surviving her teenage years Vargas-free. Because this summer is going to be dedicated to helping her sick dad. And the way Jude sees it, that means restoring his old vintage Harley. The one he rode when he was a carefree young man back in Argentina. The one that's been sitting in their storage unit collecting dust and grime for decades. And so she does her research. And she takes her dad down to the local mechanic shop in search of a man who can do the job. What she gets is Emilio Vargas. The youngest of the Vargas clan, and the last boy she wants to see during this summer of lost chances and long goodbyes. But the more time she spends with Emilio, the less like his older brothers he seems. As much as it makes her cringe to think it, Emilio might be different.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I finished The Book of Broken Hearts mystified as to its appeal. I finished it feeling the same way I've felt finishing every Sarah Dessen book I've ever read. Which is to say, I read the last word, I close the book, and I think to myself, that's . . . it? I wanted to like it so much, to be swept away for a couple of hours in the lives of two kids struggling under more weight than their shoulders are ready to hold. And since this is my first Ockler book, I was sort of hoping to find a fresh, new (to me) voice in contemporary YA. Unfortunately, it felt as though she was simply checking off the boxes on a list of standard YA contemporary tropes. Hot boy? Check. Drama geek heroine? Check. Shallow best friends who are allergic to real family issues? Check. Dismayingly indistinguishable older siblings? Check. Heartwarming life lessons learned amid personal tragedy? Check, check, check. If the writing had been something special, things might have been different. If the secondary characterization had been more layered and compelling, things might have been different. And, yeah, Jude's relationship with her father is wrenching and touching and every other thing it should be. But the impact failed to land because I saw it all coming fifty miles back, you know? There was very little in the way of something new here, the realizations she came to lessened for lack of a deeper treatment. This may be a case of supreme mismatch between book and reader, as I have yet to see a sub-stellar review. So make of that what you will. As for me, I can't say as I'd recommend it. But if you're in the mood for contemporaries with some meat on their bones, allow me to steer you in the direction of Deb Caletti, Holly Goldberg Sloan, and Kirsty Eagar. And, of course, if you require a good swoon, Stephanie Perkins and Huntley Fitzpatrick have got your back.

The Book of Broken Hearts is due out May 21st.

Buy:

Linkage
Anna Reads - "Reading it, I kept feeling like Goldilocks: 'Ahhh, now this is JUST RIGHT.'"
Fueled by Fiction - "Although the story hits on some heavy themes of degenerative disease and familial relationships, it is also about accepting fate and being present in your life with a little help of a sweet boy who rides a motorcycle."
Midnight Book Girl - "I can't imagine anyone not liking this book!"
Pure Imagination - "It was heartwarming and I loved ever word of it."
Rather Be Reading - "I can’t wait to read it again and again."
Sassy Reads - "Chemistry. They had it."
This Blonde Reads - "If you enjoy books where a character has to choose where to go with her life then you’ll like this book."

20 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I loved her first book, didn't love the second so much. I will probably read this, but the plot arc does sound a bit hackneyed!

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    1. Yes, it felt so to me. I may have gone in with heightened expectations, but the whole thing felt same ole, same ole.

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  2. Awwww MAN. Angie, I trust your opinion, I do. Which is why I'm feeling a tremor of fear beginning at my toes and working my way up to my shoulders. I want to love this book and will try to go into it with expectations on a low level so that maybe I'll end up loving it instead of the possibility of the hype making it something it's not.

    BUT. For me so far, Ockler has been a one-hit wonder. Twenty Boy Summer is a beautiful piece and the only Ockler book I've enjoyed and deeply loved. Maybe try that one and see?

    Back to Book of Broken Hearts, we'll see how things I ride, I guess.

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    1. Ugh. I'm sorry!! I seriously have not seen a single downer review of this one, and I hated being the first. But perhaps it will work for you really well if you go in with slightly modified expectations. But then I don't like Sarah Dessen. So what do I know?

      I should probably go back and give Twenty Boy Summer a go. I think it floated through my house at some point, but I never did get around to it. Good to know you love it.

      Let me know!

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  3. Oh man. I was hoping this would be a winner. Deos it seem like too much Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles?

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    1. So was I. *sigh*

      It's funny you mention Perfect Chemistry, because when I finished it last night I thought, Perfect Chemistry is utter fluff, but I still loved it way more than this one. Crazy, but true. Maybe because PC wasn't trying to be something it wasn't. This one felt like it was trying hard to be different but it just felt the same.

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  4. aw bummer, I really liked her first book quite a bit.

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    1. I get the sense that's her best one. May need to go back and give it a shot at some point. Especially if you loved it, Amy. I probably went in expecting too much. Wrong book, wrong time.

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  5. I think I've read all 4 of her books - and this was actually one of the better ones (in my opinion). I thought Twenty Boy Summer was just okay and Bittersweet VERY meh. Fixing Delilah is probably the only other one I'd ever recommend to anyone.

    It was probably a "right reader, right time" situation for me when picking this up though, because my grandmother died of Alzheimer's very recently so it wasn't hard for me to connect to that. Now I'm curious as to what I would have thought otherwise...

    Anyway, my point is that you really might not connect too well with her back list either.

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    1. Well, all right then. I'll take you at your word, Allie. Don't think I'm gonna go there.

      I'm very sorry to hear about your grandmother. It's true, I have little experience with a close family member and Alzheimer's, so that could definitely factor into my lack of response.

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  6. If you felt the same way finishing this one that you do with Sarah Dessen's books, does this mean I'll actually like this story since I ADORE Dessen? Fingers crossed for that! :)

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  7. I can understand how discovering new YA contemporary authors and a solid published work or two by them is rewarding. For me personally, however, I do have many of the concerns you pointed out as potentially problematic in this book. Many times the contemporary setting can seem a bit restraining as a reader. I would like to give some of these authors a try, but I think I'll look into your more highly-regarded books, as it sounds like we may have similar tastes on this matter.

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    1. I see what you mean, Amanda. I think I gravitate toward fantasy/adventure books for that very reason--their freedom and expansiveness.

      Btw, I dropped by your site and if your top ten things that make you pick up a book list is any indication, we have *very* similar tastes on the matter. :)

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  8. I read one one of Sarah Ockler books before, not impressive. But I would like to try this one. This is a great review!

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    1. Hm. I'm starting to think her books just aren't for me. If you do try this one, let me know.

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  9. Oh Angie. I know there's a more eloquent way to say this but, you write good. I find myself dragging my feet to read this one because Bittersweet, which started off so strongly, fell so flat for me at the end. You also perfectly summed up my recent foray into Dessen. Basically, I can't wait to read what you're working on. How dare you tantalize us with that tiny glimpse on Instagram!

    -Maggie

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    1. That is the best compliment, Maggie. Exactly those words.

      Does it make me a bad person if I feel a bit gleeful that you had a failed foray into Dessen as well? It's just that *everyone* loves her. My word. And I just . . . I just can't.

      Sorry to be a tease. I was hoping to give myself a shot of motivation. And so far it's worked!

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  10. Mallory11:21 AM

    This is actually my first time checking out your blog but this line from this review just sold me as a reader! :

    "I finished it feeling the same way I've felt finishing every Sarah Dessen book I've ever read. Which is to say, I read the last word, I close the book, and I think to myself, that's . . . it?"

    I have repeatedly wondered what is wrong with me that I just do not get the Sarah Dessen fangirling. I feel exactly as you put it everytime I try one of her books!

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    1. Hey Mallory. Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to plop right down next to me on the No Sarah Dessen, Thank You Bench and we can be happy with the choices we've made together.

      I just don't get it . . .

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