Our Chemical Hearts

Henry – at 17 has never had a real girlfriend. Lola – had a fling with Henry, but then moved on to a relationship with Georgie. Murray – comical crazy over-the-top Aussie friend is thrown into the mix. (Maybe he’s a good drawcard for Australian YA readers?)

Then, the elusive Grace turns up in their senior years of high school. Lola thinks Grace is competition for Henry. Muz (Murray) thinks she may be a zombie, werewolf or worse. But Henry is enamoured – he thinks.

When they are teamed as editors of the school newspaper, Henry and Grace have to spend more time together and things evolve. But Grace has an unexplained past – one she seems unwilling to reveal to Henry.

In ‘Our Chemical Hearts’ Henry is a somewhat gentle teenager – up till now, not too worried about what others think of him – until he meets Grace. Then, as he tries to understand a little bit about her, he finds himself in the throes of his ‘first love’. Grace, hurt by recent losses, is hot and cold in the relationship which confuses him and he digs deeper.

“I fell asleep… thinking of Grace Town and how, if people really were assembled from pieces of the universe, her soul was made of stardust and chaos.” (Is this Henry experiencing true love?)

Krystal Sutherland has a great story in this debut novel. There are moments of laughter and tears (I did both) as Henry and Grace search to understand each other, find their hearts and ultimately, themselves. Cute vignettes are exchanged between Henry and Grace (in texts, notes and letters) and funny (maybe over-the-top) quips from Murray and Lola add a friendly flavour to this touching and relatable tale.

# ‘Our Chemical Hearts’ is due for movie release sometime in 2020 – why not get to know the characters and read it before then?

## Why are there fish on the cover? (Maybe Ricky Martin Knupps II knows?)

The Last Days of Us

Some stories touch your heart – is that why you like them?

For me, there are so many touchpoints in this novel – identifying with loss of a sibling, road-tripping and typical working out ‘who you are’ as a teenager.

All this comes about as Zoey’s life crashes into oblivion following the tragic death of her brother. Unable to cope, she spirals away from her friends as they try to help her, and away from parents dealing with their own grief. Fortunately, a wakeup call (finding herself passed out at the wheel of her car) and an invitation to join her ex-boyfriend on a road-trip pulls her back into reality – a little.

Her plan is to get back with Finn, her ex, even though Cassie, her best friend is also coming on the trip.

As they travel from Adelaide to Melbourne with Finn’s cousins, Zoey works through memories and actions of the past. This is mainly generated by the questions and taunts of Finn’s super attractive but sullen cousin, Luc – Mr Grumpy she calls him.

Drawn together by the road-trip, it seems they have a little more in common as time progresses and they learn about each other. The trip itself is buoyed along by Luc’s effervescent younger sister, Jolie. It seems no-one else is too bothered to plan, so she guides their itinerary.

Along the way, Zoey begins to see things differently, and events lead to an exploration of friendships and family relationships – her old friends, her new friends and different family dynamics around her. It’s an emotional story (tissues please).

‘Losing a loved one is the hardest thing, and I think it changes a person forever.’ Author ,Beck Nicholas, in Acknowledgements, p.333.

It certainly changed Zoey. Now is she ready to change again?

Will she win Finn back? Can she do that to her best friend, Cass?

And how long can she put up with Luc’s brooding behaviour? Will she just do that to appease her newfound friend, his sister, Jolie?

More importantly, can past mistakes finally be forgiven?

# NOTE: The copy I read was a ‘dyslexic friendly’ book, which I personally found difficult. From what I have read, I can see that the font used could help somewhat. However, why hasn’t the publisher used left alignment for the text?  since justification of text removes prompts required for a dyslexic friendly style.

the Shiny Guys – Doug Macleod

shiny-guysDr Maximew and Dr Vendra smile. They don’t even look that much like cockroaches. They resemble grasshoppers, except they’re red. And everyone knows grasshoppers are friendly, with nice faces and big round eyes. Whoever heard of evil grasshoppers?

To look at Colin, he would appear to be a normal teenage boy. What isn’t normal is that he spends all day in grey pyjamas, shares a room with Len the basket weaver, and is frequently haunted by visions of ‘shiny guys’.

The reasons why the ‘shiny guys’ visit Colin isn’t clearly apparent in the early stages of the story. However, their visits seem to be of concern to his family and the medical staff. For Colin, they are an accepted part of his day.

Through Colin’s eyes, we view how a mental institution runs – with shades of ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ in some of his descriptions. Like McMurphy, Colin tries to buck the system, sometimes not taking his medication, and often critiquing the methods used in Ward 44:

“Don’t you think it’s in really bad taste to have shell-shocked Vietnam vets weaving things that look like the hats worn by the people who were trying to kill them?” (Colin asks Dr Parkinson in one of his regular sessions.)

Like McMurphy, Colin also plans his escape. He collects supplies, stores them in a secret location and keeps a keen watch on staff movements. He recruits a few friends to join him. Occasionally, the ‘shiny guys’ embolden him, tell him not to take his meds, and help him to see things more clearly (or do they?).

Other characters woven into the story provide a few different perspectives – Mango, who suffers from an attachment disorder, and Anthea, suffering anorexia. Slowly, their stories unfold as they struggle to come closer to ‘normal’ behaviour that society expects of them.

Doug Macleod’s writing is known to be funny and tongue-in-cheek. ‘The Shiny Guys’ meets this expectation, while addressing some serious issues along the way. Macleod even acknowledges himself that much of the story was inspired by real events which occurred in his life: depression and the effects of a stroke, and of course further research into some of their effects. Here is Doug’s own review of ‘the Shiny Guys’ and some interesting insights to how it was written.

As a nominee for the CBCA Older Reader awards, this is another edition which gets my vote.  Do you agree?