Title: The Book of Broken Hearts
Author: Sarah Ockler
Publisher: Simon Pulse
When all signs point to heartbreak, can love still be a rule of the road? A poignant and romantic novel from the author of Bittersweet and Twenty Boy Summer.
Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.
Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?
Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?
Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking.
I haven’t had the greatest track record with Sarah Ockler’s books, so I was quite nervous coming into it. Really, I didn’t know why I gave her another chance, even though her earlier, and also more family focused, Fixing Delilah ended up working out pretty well, but I am glad I did.
This is going to be a long review. I don’t plan on making it long, but I know that there’s a lot that I want to talk about regarding this book, so prepare for a long review. If you want to just get a short summary of this review, then pop on down to the last paragraph and then be on your merry way. If you want a much longer explanation, sit down with a beverage of your choice and get ready for lots of words.
OK, first of all, I’m going to talk about the reasons this book lost a star. The main reason: slutshaming. Or should I say Rosette-shaming. You see, Rosette is a small character, yet I really, really feel bad for her. She’s apparently a childhood friend of Emilio, the love interest. Now, from the little we’ve seen of her, she isn’t the nicest character – very jealous of Jude just because Emilio seems to like her and unable to see that Emilio likes her only as a friend – but I feel like that’s more a failure on the author’s part in writing the character than Rosette. She never gets fleshed out beyond the clingy childhood friend who comes on much too strong to ever get the boy. Then there’s the slutshaming. Rosette is called a “skankalicious skank” (p. 185) and “some crazy Catholic school girl” (p. 188) in the span of less than five pages. There are other negative terms used to describe her, but I can’t remember any instance where Jude even considers the fact that there might be more to Rosette.
It doesn’t help that the whole Catholic school girl stereotype gets applied to Rosette. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever said this here, but I attended a Catholic school for twelve years (K-12). Sure, things were often weird and a bit crazy, both in funny and bad ways, and there were girls and boys who might be classified as “crazy” (I tried to think of a different word to use since I’ve been seeing and agreeing with a lot of people complain about ablest language – and that might be the wrong title, sorry – so if you can think of a better term, feel free to suggest one), but it wasn’t because we were Catholic school students. It was because we were kids and middle schoolers and high schoolers and teenagers and adolescents and other various synonyms. It really pisses me off when people suggest that Catholic school students (normally girls) are crazy and wild and slutty and unwillingly repressed and all of those other negative words just because of the school they attend. If you can’t think of a better reasoning, that’s your writing failure, not my problem that I went to a school where we had to wear (very non-sexualized) uniforms and stand up every morning to hear a pray as well as do the pledge. Other than that throwaway line, the whole Catholic school girl thing isn’t brought up again which makes me wonder if it was just a stereotype or if she really does attend a Catholic school (still a stereotype, but at least one part would be true).
OK, sorry for the Catholic school rant. Moving on to my other problem.
Jude’s friends. I know the fact that Jude and her friends are growing apart is another source of tension and an effect of her father’s early onset Alzheimer’s, but I had trouble getting into that subplot. Now, I’ve never known anyone with close relatives that had or have Alzheimer’s. My mother’s father had Alzheimer’s, so I feel like it’s a big part of my family, but he died nearly a year before I was even born. Therefore, I can’t really judge, but it really irritated me that they were so willing to drop Jude just because her father was sick. Yes, Jude contributed to the problem because she kept pushing them away, but that only seemed to happen because they made it clear they were uncomfortable. It was frustrating that the only one who accepted her father and his illness was Emilio, the love interest; sure, I loved Emilio, he was a great guy, but her friends should be there for her no matter what. It just felt like yet another case of YA friends disappearing in favour of the love interest, even if that wasn’t exactly what happened. It really, really annoyed me when the friend subplot popped up, not necessarily because it was unrealistic or bad, but because I wanted to yell at her friends. Which might have been the point, but whatever.
If you just like reading happy stuff about books, you’ll be happy, because now begins the portion of the review where I reassure you that I did, in fact, enjoy this book, despite my long rants about my two problems.
I wasn’t a big fan of Jude initially – she kept going on and on about her Official Biker Chick outfit and the fact that her shorts were too short and kept riding up or something, which some people might funny but I don’t; however, after I got to know her better, I started liking her. Sure, sometimes she seemed a little over the top, she was too pro-Rosette-shaming, and I thought she took the vow she made with her sisters when 12 a bit too seriously (but I’m the oldest of two girls, so who knows – maybe my sister would identify with her). I especially felt for her when she was dealing with her father and his deteriorating condition. She’s trying to get the motorcycle fixed in order to prevent her father from forgetting everything, and while I know some might think this is too idealistic and even bad if she gets her father’s hopes, and her own, up too much, but I think I would have done the exact same thing in her place. I just wanted to give her a hug throughout most of the book. And, for once, when the love interest declared her funny, I actually didn’t have too much trouble agreeing (sometimes MCs who are supposed to be really funny and quirky, as told to us by other characters, end up not working for me).
Then there’s the romance. I expected to roll my eyes over and over again about the whole bad boy and naïve little good girl. However, Emilio is no bad boy and Jude might not be the most experienced (most of her past romantic involvements seem to come from acting and kissing boys in plays), but she doesn’t seem like the little good girl just waiting for the uber-hot boy to sweep in and corrupt her. Yes, Emilio might have some classic bad boy traits – a motorcycle, a killer smile, overly-flirty comments – but he also seemed like a genuinely good guy, which you really don’t see enough of in YA. Jude is more than she seems, and she deserves a guy who’s more than he seems. It’s also nice that he does have various traits that could point to one type of character, but he’s not a stereotype. He’s just a guy.
I think a big reason I liked this book is because it has a pretty big focus on family. Sure, there’s the romance that I really enjoyed (also, there didn’t seem to be too much drama involving the romance, which is always great in my mind), but this book is also about Jude’s relationship with her father and her older sisters.
First up, her father. He’s the catalyst for this whole story. He’s only about fifty, yet he has a disease normally associated with elderly people. He has moments where he seems completely normal and moments when he doesn’t know where or when he is, times that he freaks out himself and those around him, especially Jude. He’s a tough guy yet a weak man when it comes to this disease that he can’t control. I thought his character was interesting and dynamic and I loved his relationship with his youngest daughter, his last baby who ends up taking care of him like he’s the child. (And with that line, for the first time ever, I tear up while writing a review. I don’t like crying, you darn and emotional book!)
Then there’s Jude’s relationship with her sisters. Her older sister is about twelve years older, the middle is probably about ten, and the youngest is eight years older. Maybe in another twenty or thirty years, the age difference won’t feel as big, but for Jude, her sisters are literally from a different generation and childhood. Her sisters grew up in the late ’80s and the ’90s, while Jude was mostly the product of the mid ’90s to early ’00s. Yet again, this felt personal to me. My sister and I are the youngest cousins on both sides of our family, and most of our cousins are much, much older. We have some cousins who are only a few, more normal, years older than us, but we have cousins who were already married and starting families of their own when we were born. Sure, having much older cousins isn’t the same as living in the same house with much older sisters, but the whole dynamic seemed quite familiar to me while reading this book. I really felt for poor Jude, who just wanted to be a part of her sisters’ Official Sisterhood, part of the memories that came before she did or when she was too young to remember or participate. One thing that nearly broke my heart was when she was remembering the titular Book of Broken Hearts and the fact that her sisters promised to initiate her into their official Sisterhood or whatever when she was old enough – but once she reached the magical age, they were all alone and Jude was the lone sister left.
OK, if you stuck around for this nearly 2,000 word-long review, then BRAVO! If you just skipped down to see my wrap-up paragraph, then congrats for scrolling for so long! Anyway, I had some problems with this book that kept me from giving it more than 4 stars, but ultimately this book really affected me. There were many things about it that felt personal to me and I really connected with most of the characters. I’m sure I could write even more about this book, but I should probably stop now so that you can get read it yourself. This definitely opens me up for more books from Sarah Ockler in the future, which is something I didn’t expect.