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?)
Nate wonders what really makes people who they are. Is it determined at birth, or is it a result of how you are raised? Either way, things are not looking good for him. His dad is abusive, his mother is dead and he’s just finished 18 months in juvenile detention. Now he is off to some unknown location to stay with some unknown family member – his uncle, his mother’s brother.
It’s like he has completely shut down in juvie, and can’t see anything positive ahead – especially when he first meets his uncle, Mick. Neither Nate or Mick are lovable characters when we first meet them – in many ways, they are alike.
As Nate slowly explores his uncle’s community and the people within it, he begins to recollect happier times with his mum and a personal connection with the local environment. Quirky characters like Gem and Henry cross his path, and his thoughts start to move outside himself. They are authentic characters and you will love them both for different reasons.
Nate sees Gem as unique, and more beautiful inside and out than any other girl he has known. Henry is an eccentric little 8 year-old, who provides a bit of local knowledge to Nate, and at times, some unwanted companionship – till he grows on him. Even his relationship with Mick moves well beyond its gruff beginning.
However, encounters with the local tough guys test his self-control, and he begins to wonder again, if he is destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, unable to control his anger.
‘Promise Me Happy’ by Robert Newton is a great journey which makes you wonder about the ways people deal with confrontation, being different and how people can react when someone important leaves their lives. Keep the tissues handy, but feel happy that you have been on the journey with Nate in the end.
What is it like to lose someone close to you?
In what ways can we deal with our grief and remember the important things? to keep our emotions in check?
# ‘Promise Me Happy’ is on the 2020 CBCA Longlist for Older Readers
‘Dying to Know You’ begins with a young man knocking on the door of an author asking for help.
Karl has a girlfriend. Fiorella wants him to prove how much he likes her by writing answers to a set of questions she poses for him. The trouble is, Karl is dyslexic. He is also rather unsure of himself, after year of failure at school, and is certainly uncomfortable writing down his feelings.
His solution to the problem is to enlist the help of one of Fiorella’s favourite authors.
The (unnamed) author is decidedly reluctant at the start. After all, he is getting on in years, seventy-something, so why should he bother? However, for some reason, Karl gets under his skin, and he decides to help him compose the replies.
Along the way, the pair discover a little more about each other – though both have personal issues they hide. Unfortunately, they can’t hide the fact that it is not Karl who is writing the answers to Fiorella’s questions, even though the author does his best to interpret what Karl means to say.
Aidan Chambers is seventy-something himself. It is often said that you should write about what you know. Aidan Chambers does. Since the book is written from the (seventy-something) author’s perspective, you get a different view of young people, and it is hopeful and sympathetic.
There isn’t the usual criticism of Gen Y and their failings, or disrespect of the older generation. It is a sensitive story dealing with a young man’s attempt to find love and purpose in his life, while unintentionally connecting and impacting a much older generation.
Early in the story, Karl is the one keen to maintain the connection. As it continues, it is the author who begins to feel the need to stay in touch with the teenager – for his sake as much as Karl’s. The unexpected friendship develops naturally through the ups and downs of their emotional lives.
Several key events arise – some of which have had people questioning whether the issues dealt with in DTKY are suitable for teen readers. An answer to this is provided by Patrick Ness in a review in the Guardian:
So is this a book for teenagers? Why on earth not? It features two fully realised, complicated teenagers at its centre, viewed with a clear-eyed compassion by an observer who could have tipped towards the alien but remains fully human. It is perfect for that cloudy expanse between older teenager and younger adult, a novel that doesn’t pretend to advise, but merely sees its characters for who they really are. No one appreciates that more than a teenager does. Source: Patrick Ness, Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers – review – an unexpected and unusual friendship, the Guardian,
Do you think Chambers portrays the complexities of teenage life decisions realistically? Is it effective to have a seventy-something year old telling the tale? Have you ever had a special friendship develop from surprising circumstances? Is that something we all need?
Aidan Chambers shares a lot on his website. And here are a few thoughts from him when asked ‘who would you like to read your books?’:
I’m not interested in readers who read quickly just to pass the time. I’m not in the entertainment industry. Of course, I want my books to be enjoyed, to give pleasure. But that’s a different matter. I get pleasure from working hard, when it’s work I want to do. As a reader, I enjoy reading books that make me think and that are so rich and generous that I have to reread them to get all I can from them. So I suppose I want to write books of that kind and want to be read by people who read the way I do. Source: Aidan Chambers, Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.aidanchambers.co.uk/faqs.htm
Will ‘Dying to Know You’ be a book that you will reread?