Title: Our Chemical Hearts
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Books)
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
“Love doesn’t need to last a lifetime for it to be real. You can’t judge the quality of a love by the length of time it lasts. Everything dies, love included. Sometimes it dies with a person, sometimes it dies on its own. The greatest love story ever told doesn’t have to be about two people who spent their whole lives together. It might be about a love that lasted two weeks or two months or two years, but burned brighter and hotter and more brilliantly than any other love before or after. Don’t mourn a failed love; there is no such thing. All love is equal in the brain.”
It’s Henry Page’s senior year of high school, and he is in love… with the idea of being in love. Although he hasn’t yet experienced his first love, he, like most writers, considers himself a hopeless romantic. When he is chosen to co-edit his school’s paper, along with the new student, Grace Town, Henry instantly feels a pull towards the strange girl with her cane, over-sized boy clothes, poor personal hygiene, and generally withdrawn, pessimistic attitude. He quickly falls head over heels for the mysterious girl, but how does she feel about him?
I would write more, but that’s pretty much it; the rest of the book centers on Henry navigating his senior year, while he tries to figure out the enigma that is Grace Town.
So, I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I did not enjoy Our Chemical Hearts. Marketed as “John Green meets Rainbow Rowell,” I expected a story with complex, lovable characters–possibly, and probably, outcasts–that ultimately learn an important life lesson. While Our Chemical Hearts does have all of the components and tries to do that, it just didn’t work for me. It seemed a bit pretentious, but mostly I was just bored. Therefore, any meaningfulness found in the book just went right over my head.
Initially, I was really entertained by Henry and his thoughts that were loaded with constant pop-culture and nerd-culture references, but I slowly grew more and more detached from the story, in a way that I have never been with a book before–well, barring all required reading at school. This was different, as I had hand-picked this book out after reading several compelling reviews by those I follow on Goodreads. That, partly, may factor into my low rating; I had higher expectations than I usually do.
It’s also hard for me to get into contemporary books in general, so that may be another factor, and this could completely just be a case of “it’s me not you.” I guess, for me, in contemporary novels where there’s no big, complicated plot or fantastical elements to appreciate, it falls on the characters to be the main selling point, and Henry and Grace, and Lola and Muz (Henry’s best friends) just weren’t enough.
The more and more Henry’s endless and hopeless obsession with Grace grew throughout the book, the more and more I was put off. The more time he spent with her, the more I questioned what he saw in her. I immediately saw her as a girl shrouded in grief who was not ready to embark on a romantic relationship and instead needed either a friend or to be left alone–not to be romantically pursued by this disillusioned, even if well-meaning, boy who completely misinterprets her every action.
But, at the same time, that’s sort of the point. Like Paper Towns, OCH explores the importance of the distinction between loving a person versus loving the idea of a person–the difference between loving someone and loving what you believe them to be.
On the positive side, OCH is unique in that it chooses to begin after where a story usually ends. By that I mean: when I read a book, I always think about why an author chose to start it where they did. Why choose to write about that specific time in the characters’ lives?
And, as you uncover Grace’s past, you realize that she already got the happily-ever-after ending you’d typically find in a YA book, and that instead, OCH is choosing to show us a darker, more realistic time–what comes after the happily-ever-after. Since that’s so rare to find in YA fiction, I guess that’s where all my problems stem from; I ultimately just needed the book to be in Grace’s point of view.
I wasn’t concerned with Henry and his misguided feelings towards her. Instead, I wanted to be in Grace’s headspace–to know exactly what she was going through, and how she was dealing (or not dealing) with it–in this subject matter that is hardly ever explored in the YA genre. The “after happily-ever-after.”
Conclusion: Although Our Chemical Hearts is unique in what it chooses to show us and has an important message to spread, it was, unfortunately, not to my liking. I still say those who love John Green and Rainbow Rowell should give this book a try. My lack of enjoyment may stem from the high expectations I had, as OCH really does seem like my type of book. I’m ultimately going to chalk it up to a case of “it’s me, not you,” so, maybe just download a sample or borrow it from your local library before buying.
(If you are interested in buying, I actually bought my copy here, and right now it is currently only $7.94!)
Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment letting me know what you think!