• Paperback Snob

Five reasons to love My Heart and Other Breakables by Alex Barclay



I have so much love for this fabulous new young adult novel. It's about an Irish teen trying to figure out who her father is, and learning to live with her grief, after her mother has died. There are so many reasons why this book resonated with me (the title alone is fantastic) but are my top five... First of all, it’s set in my absolute favourite part of the world: West Cork in Ireland. This is where I spent many childhood summers and I return to as an adult as often as I can. In addition to boasting beautiful scenery, amazing beaches, fabulous restaurants and gorgeous bookshops, it also has the best people. West Corkonians are the friendliest and most interesting humans you’re ever likely to meet AND they have the best accent too. The story also takes readers to even more exotic and glamorous locations like Paris, Rhinebeck (New York) and (gasp) the Irish Book Awards (this last location was seriously exciting for me). Secondly – the characters are amazing. Ellery, the main protagonist, is the best friend I never had (but wish I did). She’s so funny and so much fun to be around and so thoughtful too (she gives the best presents ever). Her equally witty pal and partner in crime, Meg, is just as appealing. Ellery’s eccentric movie star grandmother is wonderful and reminds me a little of Debbie Reynolds. I love her aunt, grandfather and Meg’s mother too. But every single character – even relatively minor ones - has brilliant lines and is fully fleshed out. I feel like I know – and have known – versions of all of them – because they are so authentic not because they are unoriginal. And even though we never meet Ellery’s deceased mother, she’s one of the most compelling characters in the book. Three – the relationship between Ellery and her mum and how the story handles grief. This book handles a very delicate subject without ever getting soppy or feeling contrived, and without canonising Ellery’s mum or Ellery herself. We get a convincing and moving portrayal of a very real and tender mother-daughter relationship as well as the sadness of a bereaved child. Although I laughed all the way through this book, there were a few moments where I shed some tears too. Ellery tries to get on with her life but sometimes it’s just overwhelming and there are gaps in her diary when this happens. There is no ‘poor me’ narrative and Ellery’s quest to discover her dad’s identity is just as much a journey of discovery about her mother as it is about her father. Four – the secrecy about who might be Ellery’s father creates an engaging mystery that keeps readers guessing and introduces even more perfectly peculiar characters. Ellery and Meg are super-sleuths and as they have so many resources (due to some less-than-clued-in adults and their carelessness with their credit cards), they’re able to travel far and wide in pursuit of answers. There’s so much action and so much comedy as a result of their (sometimes duplicitous) adventure and it makes for incredibly entertaining reading. Four – how it’s written. The dialogue is brilliant and I love all the wordplay and amusing nicknames for people. It’s narrated in the first person through a series of diary entries which immediately makes the reader feel they are on friendly and familiar terms with the main protagonist. Ellery’s voice is so fresh and convincing and she and all the rest of the characters, as well as all the events, feel remarkably real. Five – it’s feminist and body positive. Without ever being heavy-handed or labouring a point, this promotes strong, independent women and points out potential red flags in relationships. One aspect that really struck me and is perhaps one of the elements I loved the most - especially as someone who came of age in the fatphobic '90s - is how body positive this book is. The term ‘body positive’ often elicits groans, especially as it’s become a bit of a meaningless buzzword. This book, however, handles it in a subtle and genuine way. Ellery is not remotely hung up on body image. It’s rare to see a female lead in a larger body unless this is considered an issue or an obstacle for her to overcome. Ellery is full of confidence – as she should be – and her dress size is barely mentioned and completely irrelevant to the plot and to Ellery herself – which is also as it should be. So, there you have my top five reasons why you need to get hold of this book immediately if not sooner! The perfect summer read, this is ideal for age 12 and upwards. There's nothing explicit or graphic so parents or other adults buying this for young readers don't need to be concerned about unsuitable content. If the name of the author, Alex Barclay, sounds familiar, it's because she's an award-winning and bestselling writer of fiction for grown-ups. Read more about Alex and her work on her website: www.alexbarclay.co.uk My Heart and Other Breakables was published by HarperCollins in April 2002 - see this book on the publisher's website Thanks so much to the lovely people in HarperCollins Ireland for sharing this brilliant book with me - all opinions expressed are my own.