Monday, May 20, 2013
ARC Review: The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler
Title: The Book of Broken Hearts
Author: Sarah Ockler
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: May 21st, 2013
What's left to say about The Book of Broken Hearts? I feel as if all of Ockler's fans have already nit-picked this book apart and proved that it's perfect in every way that counts - and they're right. And yet, while I know for a fact that The Book of Broken Hearts is Ockler's best book by far, I enjoyed Bittersweet much more and there remains that slight troubling fact that there is always something about an Ockler novel that prevents me from giving it a full five stars. Which, admittedly, isn't a big deal but makes me feel really upset anyway.
Anyway, long story short, The Book of Broken Hearts is nothing short of incredible. Jude is spending the summer with her father, whose brain is slowly deteriorating from Alzheimer's. And yet, despite his declining memory, Jude's father remembers every moment spent on his motorcycle with a startling clarity. Inspired by her father's enthusiasm for his old bike and yearning to chase away his dark condition, Jude hires a mechanic to fix up her father's bike - and hopefully fix him in the process. Only, the mechanic winds up being Emilio Vargas, the younger brother of the two boys who broke the hearts of two of her three older sisters. Ever since Jude could remember, the Vargas boys have been off-limits and although Jude tells herself that Emilio is only around to help fix her father's bike, the charm of a Vargas boy is not lost on her. Jude intended to soak up the sun with her father this summer, but her father's condition may be far worse than she thought and before long, the condition of her own heart may be the worse for wear too.
The Book of Broken Hearts has a lot to love, but perhaps my primary reason for falling head-over-heels for this book is the very fact that Sarah Ockler explored the life of an immigrant family. One of the best aspects of this, though, is that it is never over-done. Instead, Jude's heritage feels natural and the brief glimpses into a past in Central America and the struggle of learning English in a new country is enough to cement the diversity this novel provides. Furthermore, Ockler perfectly proves the utter inevitability of morphing friendships. Jude is going through a difficult time in her life, but that doesn't always mean that the rest of her life doesn't change. While she is focused on her father, her friends grow and change into different people just as she does, and this is so beautifully conveyed through Ockler's writing. I seem to be constantly on the look out for books that push the boundaries of YA and deliver more, so I am thrilled that The Book of Broken Hearts satisfies my thirsts.
And yet, despite its originality, this book never breaks away from the standard necessities of any strong novel. For one, this novel is just heart-breaking. I guess that is only to be expected from the title, but I found myself surprised by the depth of emotion that was conveyed through small scenes as Jude watched her father slowly lose his memory. Moreover, the strong bond between these four sisters is even more bittersweet in a way. For one, Jude feels helpless as the youngest. In fact, she calls her three older sisters The Holy Trinity and obviously feels divided from them and their wisdom. Not only has she always heeded the advice of her older sisters, but for the first time, she feels as if their advice may not be the right course. Emilio is nothing like his heart-breaker older brothers and to push away his sincerity because of his family seems ridiculous to Jude - and rightly so. And yet, despite that evident conclusion, truly breaking away from her role as the baby sister and embracing a greater role of independence is difficult for Jude, which makes her journey all the more poignant. With The Book of Broken Hearts, Ockler truly strips away so many pillar-like foundations that Jude holds onto - her father's memory, her mother's dependability, the wisdom of her older sisters - and forces Jude to find herself amidst the confusion in her life. And this, this I love.
Emilio Vargas, however, is what I suspect most readers will love the most. While the swoon-worthy hero of Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere is notorious for his eyelashes (Bat. Bat. Bat.), Emilio will undoubtedly become notorious for those knee-weakening dimples. Wink. Wink. Although Emilio and I got off to a rough start, mostly because his teasing can come across as arrogant at times, he is easily one of the sweetest and most understanding male protagonists I've met. Ockler steers clear of the ridiculous "forbidden romance" route with this one and allows Emilio to prove himself worthy of Jude, which wins her over completely. Not only is her immensely caring of her father and her situation in life, but he never gives up on her either. And although I craved for more of a back story with Emilio, for more of his problems and his musings, and often even wondered why he found Jude so appealing when he himself was so perfect and patient and far too good for her, I did enjoy their romance immensely.
Nevertheless, I found that despite the fact that Jude was a dynamic character, there remained a palpable distance. I couldn't always understand her on the level I wanted to and while I did really like her, at other times I felt as if her growth was almost prolonged in parts. Now, that's not to say that the plot of this story suffered - because it didn't - but it did feel as if the same idea needed to be repeated so many times before Jude understood what she needed to do with her life. Which is realistic, guaranteed, but this wasn't written in a way that truly enabled me to understand Jude. Additionally, a lot of this story is told in flashbacks, which both worked and didn't. For the most part, this transition was seamless but in some areas, it was wholly unnecessary. In my opinion, to end off a chapter with an event and begin the next one the next day and go back and recount what happened in the previous night's event is a little excessive. Still, despite these qualms, The Book of Broken Hearts is a solid read. Although I suspect Bittersweet is still my favorite of Ockler's work - not to mention the most light-hearted too - there is no denying that Ockler has grown immensely and her next novel promises to be even better than this one.