My Heart & Other Breakables.

My Heart & Other Breakables by Alex Barclay. 

A book review & discussion by Kate O’Brien. 

Before Christmas I found out that I was being added to the HarperCollins Ireland mailing list in 2023. I was so happy about this as it is really fantastic to receive some #bookmail. 

I love the element of surprise as I don’t know what book I will be getting until it arrives in the post, and similar to what I said about the #blinddatewithabook packages, I like getting books that I may not have chosen for myself. 

Alex Barclay’s My Heart & Other Breakables was the first book I received in the post from HarperCollins Ireland, and I want to say thank you to the HarperCollins Ireland team as it is a pleasure to be on the mailing list. I look forward to reading and reviewing books throughout 2023.

I also want to make it clear that this review is not an ad, not a paid promotion. 

This review is not sponsored in any way. I have not been paid to write this review & all thoughts & opinions shared in this piece are entirely my own. 

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s dive into my first book review and discussion of 2023. 

Alex Barclay has expertly mixed humour with heartache in  My Heart & Other Breakables. 

The book is an epistolary novel that allows readers to peer into Ellen Brown’s diary. 

Ellen Brown is the sixteen year old protagonist who has just lost her mother, but even though she is processing that loss, her thoughts seem to constantly revolve around her father. She wants to know who her father is, and in true Mamma Mia fashion, Ellen, with the help of her best friend, has narrowed it down to three options. 

It would be far too easy if these three men lived in the same place, a journey like this would be no fun without hijinks. Ellen is absolutely determined to get away from her grandmother and find out who her father really is. As you might have guessed, hijinks do ensue. 

The story is set in Ireland, and I am biassed of course, but it is always great to see Irish dialogue and local phrases being used. The novel feels very immersive anyways because of the diary-entry format, but seeing phrases that I use myself makes it feel even closer to home, and even more relatable. It was very funny seeing Ellen attempt to explain Irish-isms, and I imagine if you’re not from Ireland then perhaps her explanations won’t make the most sense, however I imagine this happens with any book when it is set somewhere – If you’re from New York and you’re reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s then you’ll know the locations, if you read Dickens and you’re from London, you’ll know the locations. The same thing is happening  here, if you’re from Ireland then you’ll really understand some of the sayings.

This is a great story. I would say that it absolutely fits into the wonderful world of YA novels where sometimes the far-fetched and the unbelievable happens and that is perfectly okay. 

You can’t think about little details too much otherwise they will hinder your enjoyment of the book. Can you “accidentally” stay in a £500 a night hotel in real life when you’re sixteen? Of course not, it’s far fetched, but if you allow the elements of make believe to happen without question, if you allow yourself to go with the flow and have fun with it, then this book is a really lovely, easy read that will brings lots of laughs and maybe even a few tears, without being too heavy in tone overall. 

I would call it a teenage coming of age story because sixteen is that age in the in-between. 

You’re not a pre-teen anymore, and you’re not barely a teenager who has just left the age of twelve behind. Sixteen is right there in the middle, you’re inching closer to eighteen, and in Ireland that is the age you can drink alcohol, it is the age you can vote, it is the age that you do the Leaving Cert and leave school, at eighteen you are a legal adult, and when you’re sixteen you’re nearly there, you’re nearly an adult but you’re not there yet. I cannot imagine losing a parent this young. I cannot imagine having to grieve such a significant loss this young, and the fact that Ellen Brown is trying to process her grief and in doing so, she wants to find the only direct parental figure she has left is why I would call this a coming of age novel. Ellen has her grandmother and her aunt, and while things may not always be perfect, they are loving, but Ellen wants to find her father and I can understand this. In grief, we cling onto things, we want something to make us feel anchored and secure. So much of who we are as people can often, not always, but often can be linked to our parents. Ellen Brown lost her mother at the age of sixteen. She has to try to process this loss and live the rest of her life without her mother, she is figuring out how she will do so, she is wondering will she be able to do so? So in my opinion, her wanting to find and meet her father is also a way for her to find herself. She has to navigate her life in a completely new way now, and I don’t think this is something that many of us plan to do at sixteen. No one wants to do this, but now Ellen has to, and I really enjoyed the way the book followed a circular structure. One year of diary entries, we start at one end of the year, and we finish in the same place an entire year later, and as one might imagine, a lot can happen in a year. 

One thing is for sure, Ellen comes of age. 

One of my favourite things about this story is the relationship between Ellen and her best friend Meg. Meg is a bookworm, Meg is kind, Meg is an extremely supportive best friend and she does her best to help Ellen on her adventures. I love seeing strong friendships in books, especially because our friends can be the people who lift us up when we are down. The support of a true friend can mean the world to us, and I enjoyed seeing that dynamic portrayed so nicely in My Heart & Other Breakables

Ultimately I would say that this was a really fun and very heartfelt read. I was surprised by how heartwarming and poignant the book managed to be without venturing into melodramatic territory. I find that sometimes in YA narratives, grief, especially a young person’s grief can be a hard topic to write about. Some books do not give young adults enough credit and assume they do not grieve as an adult would because they are young, so this means they don’t fully grasp what has happened. Others delve into melodramatic territory and lack nuance since the protagonist is young, so the grieving process can become one that is full of sobbing and nothing else. Grief is a complex thing no matter what age one is. It is filled with ups and downs, good days, and bad days, tears and laughter, and I think that Alex Barclay captured the right balance in her book. 
 This book is fun, it is heartfelt, and even though there is a lot going on, it is accessible due to the diary entry style. I would recommend My Heart & Other Breakables for readers aged (11-14.)

What better book to review on February first?

Be sure to follow me on Instagram @katelovesliterature if you don’t already.

Have you read any books that you felt really explored the topic of grief in a brilliant, nuanced, touching way?

If so, please let me know. I love hearing your recommendations.

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