Finally, something other than rape, murder, and mayhem to come out of Sweden! This translation is absolutely delightful, bringing to mind favorites suFinally, something other than rape, murder, and mayhem to come out of Sweden! This translation is absolutely delightful, bringing to mind favorites such as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer and 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. The story is sweet without being saccharine, the writing is breezy and easy to devour, and overall the story is a book lover's dream as it is chock full of literary references and life-as-related-to-books observations.
The basic premise is that Sara, from Sweden, began corresponding with Amy, from Broken Wheel, Iowa, when Sara bought a book from Amy online. They've been writing letters back and forth for a while when Amy invites Sara to visit her. As the bookstore where Sara works is getting ready to permanently close, she decides to go to Broken Wheel on a two-month tourist visa to meet her friend in person for the first time ever. Alas, she arrives too late. Sara enters Broken Wheel just as Sara's funeral is ending.
The residents of Broken Wheel - a dying farm community a few short miles down the road from a larger, more successful city, Hope, Iowa - do their best to make Sara welcome. They put her up in Amy's house, they feed her burgers from Amazing Grace (the one diner in town), and they assign newly-sober George to be her chauffeur when it becomes clear that Sara does not have a license. But Sara came to Broken Wheel to meet Amy, and isn't sure what to do with herself without Amy there to anchor her. As usual, Sara finds comfort in books, and they spark an idea as Sara grows to know the town and its inhabitants: Sara will open a bookstore on Broken Wheel's mostly-empty Main Street strip. Not that Sara has a work visa; she'll just be minding Amy's storefront, using Amy's books, in Amy's town.
As you might expect, the good people of Broken Wheel are both supportive and suspicious of their new resident. Sara's arrival is a catalyst for many individuals and the town itself, and soon her quiet yet infectious energy spreads far and wide. As the circle of influence grows, the more inter-connected the stories of the residents become, so that by the end, people as far away as Hope and beyond are brought to Broken Wheel while the residents band together to hold on to their dreams - and the one person responsible for influencing them. After all, Sara's tourist visa is only good for a couple of months. If only there was a way to get her to stay...like, say, a marriage, perhaps?
Reading this book was like talking with an old friend. The pace was measured, unhurried; the topics were life and love and loss and finding yourself; the books and authors and characters mentioned were familiar and comforting. Any and all book lovers should do themselves a favor by picking up this charming book....more
Brace yourself. I’m about to royally GUSH about how much IN LOVE I am with this book. I’ll try to keep the all-caps and exclamation points to a minimuBrace yourself. I’m about to royally GUSH about how much IN LOVE I am with this book. I’ll try to keep the all-caps and exclamation points to a minimum, but it’s going to be difficult. I read it all in one sitting last night and am practically vibrating with excitement while blogging right now.
First, I’m completely in love with the characters. Bex has such a solid head on her shoulders! Thank goodness for the lack of emotional drama. She’s refreshingly level-headed and very honest about what she’s feeling, and that moves the plot forward with nice momentum. Her dedication to her art is admirable, as is her compassion for the personal struggles of the people in her life.
If Jack could come to life and be my boyfriend IRL, I’d be okay with that. A rockabilly stud who is a vegetarian Buddhist AND he hand letters? Be still my heart! But in all seriousness, his dedication to his own art, to his sister, and to discovering what’s important to him philosophically is just as refreshing as Bex’s level-headedness. Also, a male character not afraid to share his feelings, ask questions, and support both physically and emotionally the girl he’s into? Swoon.
Also, the heat between these two – wowza! One of the things I find frustrating about reading YA is that they often tame down that heat. That certainly wasn’t my experience, and I love reading books that take you right to that sexual edge. We’re not reading an adult romance novel, obviously, but teenagers have heat. They have amazing first kisses and they have sexual feelings and conversations and dry humping and even, yes, intercourse. Jenn Bennett writes about all of that with supreme grace and delicious little details (I will never look at a belt buckle the same way again) that bring their teenage sexuality to life.
The book is told primarily from Bex’s POV, though that doesn’t mean we’re at a loss for what the other characters are going through either. The secondary characters primarily include Heath, the older, more rebellious, gay brother; “Saint Noah,” the brother’s boyfriend (quick shout-out to LGBT secondary characters done correctly!); “Nurse Katherine,” the mother; and “Pandhandler Will,” the homeless man who’s somewhat instrumental in getting “Sad Girl” and “Monk” together. Secondary characters include Jack’s parents, Bex’s father who abandoned them when he ran off with his stripper girlfriend (or did he??), Jack’s sister, and a few of Jack’s friends. Bex’s friends are vague tertiary characters, which I’m usually not a fan of, as I like to see a girl with an active and strong supportive circle, but her family is so clearly written and obviously involved that I didn’t miss the friends at all.
Another thing that makes me so in love with this book is the lack of game-playing. Can I get an AMEN?
Mini-rant: I’m so tired of teenage characters who are all “me, me, me,” “drama, drama, drama,” “my life is sooooo fucked up you guys, like, you don’t even know, and that means I can be all selfish and an asshole and you have to forgive me.” No. I’m glad those books exist for those who need to read them, but give me characters who can be both upset about life’s unfair twists and turns, yet still show compassion to themselves and others any day. Thank you, Jenn Bennett, for writing a book like that.
Because that’s the thing about this book – it’s not fluffy. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that bad things, unfair things, happen to good people. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but Jack’s very public family has been through a lot. Bex’s parents divorced a few years ago and we all have heard the continuing fallout that can happen from that type of situation (especially when the father has – allegedly – disappeared and refused to pay child support). Two teenagers who are willing to do almost anything to express their artwork are also bound to make a few bad decisions in the pursuit of love and craft. But that doesn’t mean the story can’t be a lovely, well-written, contemporary, quirky, young adult novel full of hope and mistakes and forgiveness all with a promising ending.
The Anatomical Shape of a Heart/Night Owls is following in some pretty large footsteps (in my opinion) and totally lives up to it. I could barely sleep last night because I felt positively giddy, like I had actually just fallen in love, whether with the entire book, Jack, or Jack & Bex, I really wasn’t sure. I was already in love with Jenn Bennett, as I devoured the first three books of her 1920s paranormal romance series, Roaring Twenties (book 4 soon, please!!). My desperation at having finished that series but being in the library queue for book 1 of her other paranormal romance series, Arcadia Bell, led me to her YA novel, and boy am I so glad it did.
Do yourself a favor and go read this book right now....more