Today, my pick for YA Contemporary Thursday is Sarah Ockler's The Book of Broken Hearts. We were lucky enough to get an advance reader copy - thank you, Simon and Schuster! - and absolutely fell in love with this book.
Hardcover, 352 pages
Format read: E-ARC via Edelweiss
Expected publication: May 21st 2013 by Simon Pulse
However, you realize several chapters in, that you're actually reading something extraordinary. It's the type of book that you'll want to share with others; want to secretly read when you're in the need of some comfort reading, and will stay with you for months to come.
The Book of Broken Hearts is one of those books.
This is a book that goes far beyond a protagonist falling in love with a boy from the wrong family. (With all due respect to the person who wrote the Goodreads synopsis for this book!)
This is a book that explores love in all of its forms. From the love between husband and wife, to the love between father and daughter, to the love between siblings - and finally, the love between two kindred spirits, this is a book that isn't just a typical YA romance, and should be recognized/honored as such.
For most of her life, Jude Hernandez has been the "forgotten" sister. As the fourth and youngest of the Hernandez girls, Jude has spent most of her life living in the shadow of her three accomplished older siblings - Lourdes, Celi and Mari.
Jude has learned a lot from the three of them over the years - from how to create dramatic outfits with their clothing castoffs, to how to make cherished family recipes. But there is one lesson from her older sisters has stuck with Jude above all else: never, ever get involved with a Vargas brother.
Both Lourdes and Celi have tangled with Vargas brothers and lost, and there's no way that any of the Hernandez girls want Jude to relive their personal heartbreak. The three older sisters make Jude swear to a pact, agreeing as much.
However, in the summer after her senior year, Jude finds herself having to break her year-longs vow. Her father is now extremely ill, with an illness that may take him away from Jude and their family, far earlier than they ever anticipated.
Despite the dire warnings of doctors and her sisters, Jude concocts a last-ditch plan to reach out to her father, and to make him whole again before he's lost forever. She decides to help her father restore his vintage motorcycle. However, the only person who can help the restoration is Emilio Vargas - the youngest brother of the two men who helped break the hearts of her sisters.
Jude is now stuck with a difficult decision: should she accept Emilio's help, and go against years of Hernandez sister tradition? Is it worth it, overlooking the memories of her sisters' heartbreak, if she can get her father's memories back for the future?
Things that worked:
I actually hated getting to the end of the book. As heartbreaking as the story was, I wanted more on the Hernandez sisters and their journey. I wanted to know that Jude was okay, after she went off to college. I'm invested now, darn it!
* Ockler presents an unflinching and extremely realistic view of how early-onset Alzheimer's can change (and often times, break apart) a family.
As someone who has had a relative go through the same diagnosis as Mr. Hernandez, Jude's frustration, fear and anger, are all things that I've experienced first-hand. Seeing all of Jude's feelings written in black-and-white, made me:
1) think Ockler must have spent a significant amount of time researching Alzheimers, to get all of Jude's emotions/experiences + her father's diagnosis just right
2) Wish that I had this book when I was in Jude's position. This is a book that teens, particIularly ones who are going through something similar, will both relate to and find a comforting companion in whatever they're going through.
* The pacing. The back-and-forth of Jude's father's behavior, interspersed with Jude's recollections of the past, made the story unfold in a beautiful, heartbreaking sort of way.
* The lighter moments. Even though I've harped on and on about how this book is heartbreaking and will make you cry, the book is NOT without its more amusing moments.
Jude's interactions with the boys who work at the Duchess are light and amusing. They do a good job in showing that at heart, she's still a teenage girl who enjoys flirting and sassing guys. She's just been forced to grow old, very quickly.
Particularly liked Jude musing to herself about how she was being a drama llama at one point. How can you not love that sort of self-awareness from a character?
* The writing. Ockler's writing has always been beautiful, but you can tell that she's grown in leaps and bounds when writing this book.
Things that didn't work:
I was originally going to say that I didn't like how Jude's friends basically abandoned her. However, after thinking about it, I realized just how realistic their abandonment of Jude was.
Her friends are young and smart, but not especially worldly. Of course they're going to be wary and hesitant of dealing with Jude and her father. It hurts, but it doesn't necessarily make them bad people. Just realistic.
About the author:
Sarah is a champion cupcake eater, coffee drinker, night person, and bookworm. When she's not writing or reading at home in Colorado, she enjoys taking pictures, hugging trees, and road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex.
Visit her website at sarahockler.com or find her on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook.