US Title: The Anatomical Shape of a Heart
First YA novel of the year for me, and this was a really good pick. I had a quiet Saturday the other week, when I glanced at my shelves, picked this up and just read the whole thing in one day. Well – technically, I finished it at 3am the next morning. It’s not a very long book, coming in at a little under three hundred pages.
The premise: Beatrix, or Bex, meets Jack when she’s on the Owl, the night bus of San Francisco which she is definitely not allowed to ride. They hit off a friendship instantly, and then he gets off the bus. The book is about several things, really – it follows their relationship, but also Bex’s progress in the art competition she wants to win to fund her university course. Bex is an artist – she draws anatomy. Jack is an artist too, but of a very different kind.
I absolutely fell in love with Bex over the course of this novel. She is a really interesting, funny, intelligent character – she’s someone Jenn Bennett had me completely believe in. If she were real, I would want to be her friend.
Jack took a bit longer to win me over though. By the end of the book, yes, I was entirely won over by their relationship – for reasons I’ll talk about in a bit – but for the first while, I hated the way he pursued her. It’s the same thing that bugged me in All the Bright Places, and is implied on the blurb of Everything, Everything. Jack’s pursuing of Bex for a little while is not romantic – it’s stalker-esque. Him showing up at her workplace made me really uncomfortable – in large part because turning at someone’s work when they work in customer service means they have to be polite to you. Bex’s reaction internally might be more than just scared or creeped out, but Jack has no way of knowing that. All her thoughts on the inside that we hear and not what she’s communicating. I don’t want
The fact this crops up in so many YA novels bothers me – because young people are formulating their thoughts about the world, about romance, relationships. I know I definitely idealised the relationships I read about and watched in films at that age, and I wanted to have a relationship like the fictional couples I loved, before realising later on that not all of them were healthy or desirable (*cough*Twilight*).
Obviously I enjoyed this – show me someone who stayed up til 3am finishing a book they didn’t like! But I wasn’t staying up because of any major tension or the usual cliches. Thrillers and psychological suspense books have never been my thing – I usually cotton on to exactly how the author is trying to manipulate me into feeling, feel irritated by it and put the book down.
This book though, I kept reading because it was a breath of fresh air. Despite my one issue with it being something I’ve seen in lots of YA, everything about it that I loved was due it being something I haven’t read ten times before – Bex’s character is new and original, her and Jack’s relationship is, after the beginning, well structured and paced really nicely.
While I might have a serious gripe with the beginning of their relationship, the book does go on to demonstrate some really awesome things, and sets up situations which hopefully can be super helpful to teens going through similar experiences. Jack and Bex don’t spend the whole book holding hands and pecking each others cheeks, but the narrative handled all of that ‘other’ stuff beautifully. I was so happy with the intimate scenes because they give an awesome example of how to communicate with a sexual partner – what you should feel comfortable talking about, how you should be treating each other, how to deal with (inevitable) little awkward moments. Those scenes were fantastic.
In terms of pacing, writing style, tone, theme, characterisation – it was really clear while reading this that Jenn Bennett is an experienced writer with a well honed skill. She has two more YA books scheduled for release in 2017 and 2018, and based on how much I enjoyed Night Owls, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for these!
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Have any thoughts on Night Owls, or on how YA fiction should handle relationships? Let me know in comments!