Sometimes I’ll reminisce on my first heartbreak (wait, what do you do on your Friday nights?) and simultaneously smile and cringe — yeah, my face is weird — because the memory is a confusing cocktail. On the one hand, it’s still raw, not because of any latent feelings, but because I remember not having the emotional fortitude and experience to cope with the realisation that this great love of mine wasn’t destined to be. It hurt like a motherfucker, and even though the emotion has dulled, I still remember what it felt like. But on the other hand, I do remember the joy of being in love for the first time — pure and undulated, because I didn’t know any better — and I’m not sure if that’s a feeling I’ll ever capture again; because now the brain has the memory to warn the heart: remember what happened last time! Maybe it’s just down to meeting the right person.
Anywho, point is, I remember being a dumb high school kid and being in love, and the weight of that emotion, the incredible burden. I remember the churning of my guts when I asked her out her out the first time; how I’d hand-write a spiel in my notepad of precisely what I’d say over the phone, then freak out when her parents picked up. And I remember how devastated I was when it ended — even though the relationships that followed were far more meaningful, and resonate far more powerfully. So a book that captures the craziness of that period in a young person’s life was always going to pique my interest. But Krystal Sutherland’s Our Chemical Hearts did more than that. It blew me away. I’ve got to say, it’s one of best books I’ve read in some time.
There’s never any doubt: the romantic relationship between Henry Page and Grace Town is headed towards oblivion. Henry’s a quirky kid, who has stayed away from romantic relationships, and is focused instead on becoming the editor of the school paper. He’s two wonderfully loyal friends, and he’s pretty content with the direction of his life. Enter Grace Town, an aloof, unkempt girl who walks with a cane, and who is, naturally, assigned to work at the school paper, too.
It’s only as they grow closer, as Henry falls deeply in love with her, that he realises just how broken and scarred Grace is; that no matter how hard he tries, he may not be able to break down the wall between them; that this relationship may not be destined for the happy ending Henry wishes for.
Sutherland’s novel succeeds because it’s emotionally true. Our Chemical Hearts doesn’t demean young love; it acknowledges it’s importance and its impact. It demonstrates that love, like people, is complicated, and can exist in different forms. It’s funny, heartening and heart breaking, and a wonderful reminder of how bittersweet first love is. I loved this book.