Katherine Webber knows some truths: human lives intersect in strange and unpredictable ways. Grief shapes us in ways that we do not understand. Relationships are rarely equal. She knows all this, and she tries to shape these axioms of complexity into a story in Only Love Can Break Your Heart. I quite enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as Wing Jones.
From the author of the acclaimed Wing Jones comes a ‘break-up’ book about a Japanese-American teenager, set in the Palm Springs desert, California.
For fans of Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything and Sara Barnard’s Beautiful Broken Things. Sometimes a broken heart is all you need to set you free… Reiko loves the endless sky and electric colours of the Californian desert. It is a refuge from an increasingly claustrophobic life of family pressures and her own secrets. Then she meets Seth, a boy who shares a love of the desert and her yearning for a different kind of life. But Reiko and Seth both want something the other can’t give them. As summer ends, things begin to fall apart. But the end of love can sometimes be the beginning of you… [blurb from goodreads]
I loved Wing Jones when I read it…gosh, was it really just last year? I made my mum read it too, and she liked it as well. Anyway, I think I still prefer that to Only Love. But oh well!
I have to say that I’m kind of sick of stories where one of the central tensions or mysteries is the means of a characters death. I don’t think Reiko’s refusal to think about how she lost her sister enriched the novel in anyway. It was obvious, very quickly, that Mika had died, by drowning, witnessed by Reiko in such a way as to make her feel responsible. The admission of this at the end of the novel really didn’t change anything.
Webber does an excellent job of writing about popularity in this story, as she did for Marcus in Wing Jones. It is somewhat rare in YA to have genuinely sympathetic popular characters, who know that they are popular and are willing to use it. Reiko is like that, but Webber deals with it very well, because we first meet Reiko in the summer, when she is isolated and not with her friends, so you grow to know her as an individual, which makes it so much easier to understand who she is without the friends around who make her into someone else. Popularity is such a weird concept, but its use in the story was rather elegant.
I also loved the way that this book explores toxic relationships. The cover doesn’t scream ‘toxic relationship’, but it it worth noting that despite the word ‘love’ there is only one figure on the cover. There is a good reason for that. Toxic relationship is perhaps not the right word, but the message, of how inequality ruins relationships, and perhaps is a good reason for them not to start, is solid. I don’t mean economic inequality, though there is an element of that (which could have been better explored, to be perfectly honest) but inequality of social currency: again, popularity. Reiko and Seth want different things frm their relationship: Seth wants something unconditional and basic which will buy him social crdit, while Reiko wants someone who understands her in authenticity and is willing to be silent with her. Their relationship is very convincing–the story wouldn’t work otherwise–and it is the subtle souring of it where Webber really shows her writing skill.
I did not find this story particularly surprising, but I mostly enjoyed reading it, loved how it managed inherent human complexity, the inclusion of family and friendship, and the way it used cliches elegantly and intelligently.
have you read this one? what’s your favourite book that *seems* like a romance but actually isn’t? tell me in the comments!