“Fierce Fragile Hearts” by Sara Barnard

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Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for providing me with an Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve read some very disappointing contemporary YA novels lately, but I knew from the start that this book was going to be different. I haven’t read the author’s previous novel which concerns some of the same characters, but I don’t feel like I had to in order to appreciate this one.

The story follows Suzanne, an 18-year-old girl who has recently left the care system. Suzanne suffered from physical abuse in her childhood which continues to affect her life. At the beginning of the novel she has moved back to Brighton to start a new life for herself. There are lots of changes for Suzanne to deal with including living and managing by herself for the first time, her close friends leaving to go to university and a potential new relationship. 

The novel does a really great job of portraying the reality of Suzanne’s life and the issues she experiences. Her struggle with her finances and the loneliness she experiences in her tiny bedsit are all too real to anyone who has been in a similar position. One thing that stuck out for me in particular was when she is too poor to buy food in bulk. This is something that people in real life rather patronisingly say to struggling people so that struck a chord to me. This novel examines the realities of living a minimum wage existence and the hand to mouth existence that is a reality for many. Loneliness, poverty and abuse are all explored and it’s hard not to feel genuine sadness and frustration at Suzanne’s experiences and the mistakes she makes.  

The characters all felt incredibly real. Suzanne, Rosie and Caddy were all utterly believable as young girls on the very cusp of adulthood and their experiences and friendships will be familiar to many young women at this point in their lives. The laughter, the tears, the drama, the angst…it’s all here. The relationship between Suzanne and her elderly neighbour Dilys is also very touching and sweet. The relationships in this book are mature and complex, this isn’t fairy tale land. It’s the real world and the author has captured this brilliantly.

As a main character, Suzanne is sometimes a difficult person to like, and some of her choices will frustrate you as the reader but she feels very real. If anything, Matt was perhaps a little too good to be true, but I could also argue it’s nice to have a male character in a contemporary YA novel who isn’t a complete and utter git. 

There were moments of humour too, I couldn’t help having a little laugh at quotes like:

“I feel instantly terrible for judging her for wearing Converse even though she’s in her forties” 

As someone pushing 40, I did feel ever so slightly personally attacked but I let it slide. No one is ever going to stop me wearing my Converse.  

This novel had all you would want from a contemporary YA novel. It explores real issues; the voices are credible and the problems and issues the characters experience are all utterly believable. Highly recommended.

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