Friday, August 22, 2014

Young Adult Fiction: The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

This will be my fourth book by Sarah Ockler, and not my last as next week I'll be writing about her latest novel #scandal. I have been a fan of Ockler's since reading her first book, Twenty Boy Summer, so it was a given that I would eventually pick up today's subject, The Book of Broken Hearts, even if it did take nearly a year after its publication for me to do so.

The Situation: Jude Hernandez is the youngest of four sisters, and the only one still living at home with her mother and father. It is the last summer before she is to go off to college, and with her mother picking up extra shifts more than an hour away, Jude has decided to help her father restore his old motorcycle in the hopes that it will help his memory. She doesn't want to believe the doctor's diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's disease, but it does seem like her papi loses more and more of his memory everyday. But when it comes to his old motorcycle and his former biker gang days, Papi comes to life in a way that gives Jude hope. So she forgoes the usual last summer antics of a graduating senior and decides that her adventures will be with her father.

The Problem: Caring for an ailing father is hard enough, especially as his inevitable decline becomes harder to ignore. But when Jude and Papi go to a local mechanic to hire someone to help restore the motorcycle, the mechanic they end up hiring is none other than Emilio Vargas, of THE Vargas brothers. Miguel Vargas broke the heart of Jude's eldest sister, Lourdes. And Johnny Vargas broke the heart of his fiancé, Jude's second oldest sister, Araceli. After that, all four sisters were lead in an oath by the third sister, Mariposa, to never ever get involved with a Vargas again. That was six years ago when Jude was 12 years old, and after realizing that the mechanic that will now spend many hours at her home is a Vargas, she rationalizes the situation, believing she hasn't broken the oath because she has no plan to get involved with him. But even just having him around the house feels like a betrayal. She does what she can to put distance between them, but with her friends keeping their distance because of Papi's potential freak outs, and Emilio seemingly not like his older brothers in any way, he becomes the person Jude is spending most of her time with. She isn't looking forward to explaining any of this to her sisters. And she also isn't sure how she'll convince them that Emilio is different and won't end up as another page in the sisters' Book of Broken Hearts.

Genre, Theme, History: This is a young adult fiction book that centers around Jude, the youngest of four sisters in the Hernandez household in the town of Blackfeather, Colorado. As the narrator, it is Jude's story we're getting, as well as Jude's thoughts, her perspective, her emotions, and her retelling of her family's history as she knows it, although it is eventually revealed that because she is the youngest, she is left out of quite a bit. With Jude comes the relatable experience of being the youngest in a large family. And as the only one still living at home, she is also the only one who sees the effects and symptoms of Papi's Alzheimer's everyday, and yet she is left out of any major discussions about what to do next. She laments her sisters' attempts to decide on how she should live her life, and often looks down at her outfits and realizes that they are made up entirely of hand-me-downs, even if they don't quite fit properly. Also, this is the first Ockler book where the main character isn't white. Jude's parents are both from Argentina and moved to the states before any of the daughter's were born, and before they even knew English. Because of this, plenty of Spanish is thrown around, as is much discussion about Jude's mother's amazing empanadas. And then of course, there is also the well-known theme of a girl trying her best to stay away from the boy that could very well only end up leaving her heart-broken.

My Verdict: It's a weird thing with Ockler...I felt like Twenty Boy Summer was a hit. And then Fixing Delilah was somewhat of a miss. And then Bittersweet was a definite hit. And now, for me, The Book of Broken Hearts falls somewhere in the middle, but it leans more towards a miss. The characters were fine, and even the storyline was fine, but parts of it just seemed choppy as if large chunks of the story were edited out and no one went back to smooth over the gaps. It was like it was missing significant transitions, and maybe even a few crucial plot points. More than once I felt a little lost and almost as if there was a fog over relevant parts of the story. Also, much of the dialogue, and some of Jude's emotions, felt forced and like they came out of nowhere. And then there is the ending: I just don't believe it. It's just too unrealistic for me, and too much of a fantasy that I have a hard time believing would play out in real life. Maybe I'm just not good at living in the moment, or something, but the ending of this book just doesn't work for me.

Favorite Moment: When Papi has a moment of clarity and stops Jude and Mariposa from fighting, while also reminding them that he is still their father.

Favorite Character: I have read many books that have teenage girls for narrators, and I must say that Jude is certainly one of the least annoying. She is a young girl dealing with stuff that is way over her head, so she makes mistakes, but they are understandable, and nothing too dramatic. 

Recommended Reading: As I said above, I believe Ockler's Bittersweet to be a hit, and as it is the book that was published right before this one, it is the one I will recommend. 

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