book review · books · shanti

our chemical hearts and sadness

Now, I know I don’t talk about this all that much, but I am, in fact, a high school newspaper editor. I love doing this (even though it’s a chief stressor in my life as well) and it’s something I care a lot about. So of course, when I heard about Krystal Sutherland’s book Our Chemical Hearts, where the protagonist is a high school newspaper editor, I was BEYOND EXCITED. I bought the book, read it eagerly–and was sorely disappointed.The way  this story examined the manic pixie dream girl trope was interesting, and I get that it was a tragic love story (though I had a few issues with that too) but newspaper wasn’t a big enough part of the story.

The examination of the manic pixie dream girl trope and the love story worked, though I have quibbles, but the abandonment of newspaper let me down.
Grace *seems* like a manic pixie dream girl. It’s said explicitly–and then the truth is revealed. Manic pixie dream girls (aka, a quirky girl whose role in the story is to bring the ‘ordinary’ boy out of his shell) are ridiculous, so I did appreciate this. Henry is obsessed with her–and she does teach him a lot. But the key here is that Grace’s state of being: sad, frustrated, peculiar, inconsistent–it’s seen as a negative thing. It’s seen as her being broken, and not in a beautiful way. She tells him this. He knows it. He learns it. Maybe she’s a manic pixie dream girl, but she shouldn’t stay that way forever. However, while I appreciate some good trope reversion, this was sort of inconsistent. Grace comes out with these incredibly beautiful, wise statements, and I appreciated the writing, but the message was inconsistent. She was strangely self aware–she kept reminding Henry that he was in love with the idea of who she could be, not her as she was, so it didn’t really destroy the trope.
The love story is not going to go well. It’s pretty obvious from the inside flap: Love is an Epic Disaster, it reads. Henry wants Grace. He loves her. It’s not *quite* instalove, but it almost is. They laugh together and kiss and tease and message and make powerpoints (so the formatting was rather cool), and have sex, and you know it’s going to end terribly, because they aren’t quite right for each other. What I liked about the love story, though, was that there are lots of love stories, all at once. There was Sadie (my favourite character), divorcing, loving her child. Madison, queen, imperfect. Murray, obsessed with this one girl and making a fool of himself. Lola and Georgia are *seemingly* perfect. One thing did upset me, though, and that was the parents love story. The resolution of this in the novel really irked me, but no spoilers.
This book takes place in a bland, New-Englandish town (said the girl who has never been to the US). The setting didn’t even have a name, and that annoyed me. There’s high school, but the love story consumes everything. And while I know that first love can be that way, some of the things I was most looking forward to about this book were abandoned. Like, the newspaper. I read this book for the newspaper, and it was basically a barely developed afterthought. The whole story just didn’t seem quite cohesive. Stuff would happen (e.g. Henry going to Grace’s house), without clear lead up. (I may have been reading too fast?). and the drafts thing on Henry’s phone, what was the point of that? And the random parties? And the drinking? and SO MANY pop culture references. There was no clear flow, apart from the love story, in this novel, and everything (other than angst) just felt a little under nourished.
This book is funny, quirky, and anti-romantic in mostly good ways. But it didn’t work for me, because the tropes were still there, and lots of important things were ignored.

What’s a book that’s disappointed you? Are there any books with a good portrayal of high school newspapers (because believe me, I will read them)? And have you read this one?

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13 thoughts on “our chemical hearts and sadness

  1. Our Chemical Hearts was such a letdown for me! I wanted to like it because of its pretty cover and its newspaper focus, but I got through the first few chapters and had to DNF. Sorry you didn’t like this one either 😦

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  2. Ah, too bad it didn’t deliver. That cover though! You should frame it on a wall 😀 god it’s so beautiful.. I wouldn’t stop staring.
    As for great books involving school paper editing, I would recommend “Throwing My Life Away” by Liz Czukas. I loved it, I hate to link drop in comments, but if you’re curious why here’s an old post of mine, it has more detail about the book and why it gave me ALL THE GOOD FEELS:
    http://avalinahsbooks.space/throwing-my-life-away-by-liz-czukas/
    And yes, yes… I know… I need to fix my blog’s archive menu setup 😐 barely found it myself xD

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  3. Ack that’s really sad. 😭 I won this and want to read it because I thought (?? I may be wrong??) that it is Australian? SO YEAH. I hoped it’d be about the newspaper aspect too, because that makes me think of Spiderman who is awesome. I’m sad it was a let down for you.😭 I shall keep my expectations low.

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    1. You might like it! It was just the school newspaper thing that bothered me. And no it isn’t australian, just a bland american town. It would have been so cool if it was set in australia. Is Peter parker a journalist? I know nothing about spiderman haha. There’s a lot of romantic angst…I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts if you ever read.

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  4. I don’t think I’ve read any books with high school newspapers, but I’m watching Riverdale right now and two of the main characters run the school paper as of episode three.
    I don’t really get disappointed by books – I never really have high expectations unless I’m reading a sequel. I suppose House of Hades disappointed me a bit, which is odd because everyone else seemed to love it. Then again, I loved Blood of Olympus, which a lot of people seemed to hate, so each to their own.

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    1. That’s awesome! Riverdale is based on Archie, right? I did enjoy House of Hades, but it was all over the place, and Blood of Olympus was great too! Expectations can be annoying…I just really wnated a story that was actually focused on the newspaper not random angst.

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