Our Chemical Hearts has been out since October 2016 and yet, it never got my attention. I know I picked it up in a bookstore at some time in the past to read the blurb, but I wasn’t convinced. But, now Krystal Sutherland’s new novel (A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares) is out and it’s getting a lot of good press. And that blurb actually speaks to me a lot more. But I wanted to start at Sutherland’s first novel so I bought Our Chemical Hearts, to finally read it.
What’s it about?
Let’s go to our friends at Goodreads to help us out with this, as ever:
Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him-at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.
Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl-she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.
Go with your gut instinct
As I said, this book never spoke to me. And I should have trusted myself. Our Chemical Hearts is not a terrible book. It’s just not the book for me. So I’ll try to stay objective enough, since I don’t want to bash a book that’s very well written and also speaks to a lot of people. Sometimes these things happen; not all books are for all people.
It’s not hard to pinpoint why this wasn’t the book for me. It’s not the setting: I actually quite like contemporary books. The writing is also good, I went through this book in no time. Nope, for me, it were the characters that made me dislike this book. And dislike is maybe too big of a world since I liked all other parts. I even gave the book 3 stars on Goodreads (rounded up from a 2,5 that is).
But main characters are what make or break a book. The story and/or setting can be brilliant, yet with unlikeable characters, everything falls apart. It’s a bit like 13 Minutes (spoilers in that link). A LOT of people really liked that book, while I couldn’t stand the main characters. But, that book was also predictable and had a terrible plot. So Our Chemical Hearts is a lot better in that aspect.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl
It’s funny. Because Grace Town is so very obviously a manic pixie dream girl, one of the characters actually even calls her that. Not familiar with the term? It was first invented by film critic Nathan Rabin after seeing Elizabethtown. Here’s what the Urban Dictionary has to say about the MPDG:
That bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.
And Manic Pixie Dream Girls don’t just exist in films. They appear in books as well. Just open up a John Green novel other that The Fault in Our Stars. All is other books are loaded with MPDG. I think that’s also the reason why I’m not a big fan of his work as well. He writes amazing stories, but the main characters are just… terrible. It’s the reason why I still haven’t read Turtles All The Way Down.
And it’s not just Grace Town. It’s also the rest of the cast of Our Chemical Hearts. They say things teenagers don’t say. It’s all very pretentious and over the top. Here are some quotes to prove I am right. Man, despite that I went through this book like crazy, I just can’t deal with all the pretentious shit these characters said.
The insane rush of endorphins that flooded my system the moment my phone vibrated and her name popped up on screen was worrying. I’d never been addicted to anything before, but I thought maybe this is what it felt like to be a junkie in desperate need of a hit.
Grace Town was a chemical explosion inside my heart. She was a star that’d gone supernova. For a few fleeting moments there was light and heat and pain, brighter than a galaxy, and in her wake she left nothing but darkness. But the death of stars provides the building blocks of life. We’re all made of star stuff. We’re all made of Grace Town.
Lola and I both highly believed in the value of metaphorical gifts, so while everyone else saw a demonic-looking cat skeleton dripping wax on the packaging, Lola saw the message: Our friendship is like this feline shaped candle – burn away all the shit, and you and me are still solid underneath. Always.
See what I mean? Maybe this book would actually only be read by teenagers, who maybe like this kind of speech?
Our Chemical Hearts conclusion
+ Well written with a very high pace
+ Unconventional ending
+ I’m a sucker for pop culture references
– These pretentious teenagers and the way they talk
– Unlikeable characters, each and every one of them. They even all have stupid (nick)names.
– Those drafts by Henry
– So extreme much underage drinking
I really wanted to like this contemporary YA novel, but it turned out to be a let-down. And now, I am unsure if I will read A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares. I only picked up Our Chemical Hearts to make sure if I liked Krystal Sutherland’s style. But if the same kind of characters live in this new book, suddenly, I’m not so sure. Can anybody help me decide? Let me know in the comments!