Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Quality of Prose: 4/5
Quality of Story: 3/5
Quality of Characters: 3/5
Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4/5
How Long It Took Me To Finish: 3 days
A 1 Sentence Summary
Henry Page falls in (mostly unrequited) love for the first time with the mysterious Grace Town, who is in love with someone else, her boyfriend of many years who has recently died.
My Favorite Quotes
“When I look up into the night sky, I remember that I’m nothing but the ashes of long-dead stars. A human being is a collection of atoms that comes together into an ordered pattern for a brief period of time and then falls apart again. I find comfort in my smallness.”
“Because I never realized that you could fall in love with humans the same way you fall in love with songs. How the tune of them could mean nothing to you at first, an unfamiliar melody, but quickly turn into a symphony carved across your skin; a hymn in the web of your veins; a harmony stitched into the lining of your soul.”
What I Loved About It
Krystal Sutherland’s writing is very John Green-esque. The prose–and especially the dialogue–is incredibly witty and sharp, and it also has a depth to it that many young adult books are lacking these days. It gets you thinking about life, death, and love in a way that you hadn’t previously.
It’s those two things that I really liked about this book. The dialogue, which was chock-full of hilarious references and smart comebacks, was extremely fun to read at times.
Here’s a cool example:
The main character, Henry says, “This is the second straight hour I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift. She’s the only one who understands me…Who hurt you, Taylor? How can one person endure so much heartbreak?” to which his sister replies, “Are you gonna keep this bottled up inside until it manifests as mental illness?” to which he says, “That’s pretty much the plan.” His sister: “How long have you been lying in that bed for, anyway? You’re going to get deep vein thrombosis.” Henry: “Leave, Sadie. Leave me to my heartache and DVT.”
This funny exchange is immediately followed by a deep heart-to-heart covering love and what it means when a love isn’t forever and the chemical reaction in your brain when love fails and your heart is breaking.
The whole book is full of these funny exchanges and cool (and extremely current) pop culture references and quotable quotes about love and death (like the ones I included above under “My Favorite Quotes”).
And while I loved all these things about the book, there were things I didn’t love as well. I didn’t particularly like the characters. I supposed I liked the supporting characters (Henry’s sister and friends, etc.). They were hilarious and endearing and fun in their eccentricity. But Henry and Grace? I just could not root for either of them. Henry was naive to the point of annoyance, and Grace was frustrating and unappealing and even a little cruel. And I guess that’s the point. Doesn’t love make you naive? And doesn’t grief make you cruel? This isn’t supposed to be a love story you root for, but instead a case study on how first love (or really any love) doesn’t usually last, and how do we react when it doesn’t or when we’re in the midst of it but know it won’t last?
What My Students Could Learn From It
Another cool thing about this book is how realistic of a depiction it provides for teenage relationships. Henry’s obsession with becoming Grace Town’s boyfriend even though he practically knows nothing about her and only finds her attractive 20% of the time? Yeah that’s pretty realistic. Take it from someone who spends 8 hours a day with hormonal, relationship and “love”-driven teenagers. The obsession is so real. I think kids can learn from how Henry’s obsession pans out.
Other than that, I don’t think there are many clear cut lessons to learn from Our Chemical Hearts. Sutherland asks a lot of questions and starts a lot of conversations and encourages thought about a lot of things (with those magic John Green-esque quotable quotes), but doesn’t provide many clear “morals of the story.” Her ambiguity is refreshing. I think teens would appreciate the depth of some of the quotes and dialogue found in the novel, and it would get them thinking about a lot of things. And as their teacher, that’s definitely something I want novels they read to do.