Book review: Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara Barnard

Friday, March 1, 2019 Permalink

I don’t read a lot of young adult novels but Sara Barnard’s Beautiful Broken Things, published in 2016 was one of my favourite books that year. It scored a very rare 5-stars from me and you’ll see from my review I go into GREAT detail about the addictive writing and complex characters.

When I saw that Barnard had a new book out, requesting it was a no-brainer though I had no idea it was a follow-up to BBT. In reality it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the first as this can easily be read as a standalone. 

Book review: Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara BarnardFierce Fragile Hearts
by Sara Barnard
Published by Macmillan Children's Books
on February 7th 2019
Source: PanMacmillan
Genres: Young Adult
ISBN: 1509852883, 9781509852888
Pages: 354

'This time around, I'm going to be so much better. I'm going to prove to them that it was worth waiting on me.'

Two years after a downward spiral took her as low as you can possibly go, Suzanne is starting again. Again. She's back in Brighton, the only place she felt she belonged, back with her best friends Caddy and Rosie. But they're about to leave for university. When your friends have been your light in the darkness, what happens when you're the one left behind?

Again I was tempted to mark paragraph after paragraph of Barnard’s poignant and beautifully-written prose. She seems to effortlessly throw in a phrase or paragraph that sings while simultaneously ripping out our hearts.

I must confess I can’t entirely recall but think the previous book was written from Caddy’s point of view. This time it’s all written from Suzanne’s and we pick up two years after we last left off. It’s not a spoiler to note that Suzanne’s recovered from her attempted suicides and been in foster care. Happily for her, the carers sound(ed) wonderful and having worked in the system here in Australia a long time ago, such foster families are a rarity!

The book opens as Suzanne turns 18 and is leaving the ‘system’.

I’m the queen of fresh starts, which is another way of saying I’ve lived a lot of failures. I’ve thought things will be different this time more than once, but this time it’s actually true, for good or bad, whether I want it or not. p 2

Suzanne’s returning to Brighton just as her two best friends, Caddy and Rosie, are leaving for University. She’s a resilient young woman and knows she has a tough road ahead of her. She’s got a job and an apartment (of sorts) but she’s lonelier than expected.

When I look around my four walls there’s a familiar, sinking hollowness in my chest. Loneliness does funny things to time. It gives it width as well as length; it makes it cavernous. p 20

Mental illness / wellness obviously again features strongly in the novel. Suzanne’s plagued by issues around trust and dependency and this impacts on new and old friendships and a potential romantic relationship.

When someone knows you’ve been broken, all they see is the cracks. The knowledge colours everything, an extra filter between me and the world. People look at me differently, and maybe I look out at the world a little differently, too. p 4

The changing nature of friendships is beautifully presented and though Barnard’s writing is sympathetic and sensitive I found it a little confronting (and not in a bad way!). Most people will relate to leaving childhood friendships behind after school; or the change in friendships once you have a partner or kids. It’s inevitable.

Suzanne’s bitterly independent but also very dependent on her friends to connect her with the outside world. Suddenly she’s cast adrift, but (on the outside looking in) we realise it’s actually a good thing.

Her relationship with Caddy and Rosie is seriously tested as all three change. And of course the expectation that things won’t change is part of the problem.

But it forces Suzanne to reach out and she finds friendship in unlikely places, including with her elderly neighbour, Dilys. Initially Suzanne rejects her overtures, keen to assert her independence and but realises the old woman is as isolated as she is. A friendship grows and the fragile young woman finds herself able to confide in Dilys more than she does with most people.

Beautiful Broken Things centred very much around Suzanne’s past. It’s touched on only briefly here. I can’t recall the detail of the childhood abuse at the hands of her ‘father’ but the fact questions are raised as to its severity and impact remind us that that we can never ever know or understand what others go through. Trauma is not in the eye of the beholder, but understood only by the victim.

Barnard offers readers incredibly poignant scenes between Suzanne and her friends, potential beau and members of her family. She also offers Suzanne the opportunity for growth.

As a (sometimes) ridiculously independent person it was interesting for me to be privy to Suzanne’s assertion that she doesn’t need help. Understanding that others care and appreciate being approached is something I often forget.

Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara Barnard was published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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