Brace yourself. I’m about to royally GUSH about how much IN LOVE I am with this book. I’ll try to keep the all-caps and exclamation points to a minimum, but it’s going to be difficult. I read it all in one sitting last night and am practically vibrating with excitement while blogging right now.
Here’s the publisher description, to give you a brief overview:
Artist Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she’s spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Leonardo da Vinci’s footsteps, she’s ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital’s Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.
Jack is charming, wildly attractive . . . and possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is—and tries to uncover what he’s hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in Beatrix’s own family’s closet tear them apart?
Now for my review:
First, I’m completely in love with the characters.
Bex has such a solid head on her shoulders! Thank goodness for the lack of emotional drama. She’s refreshingly level-headed and very honest about what she’s feeling, and that moves the plot forward with nice momentum. Her dedication to her art is admirable, as is her compassion for the personal struggles of the people in her life.
If Jack could come to life and be my boyfriend IRL, I’d be okay with that. A rockabilly stud who is a vegetarian Buddhist AND he hand letters? Be still my heart! But in all seriousness, his dedication to his own art, to his sister, and to discovering what’s important to him philosophically is just as refreshing as Bex’s level-headedness. Also, a male character not afraid to share his feelings, ask questions, and support both physically and emotionally the girl he’s into? Swoon.
Also, the heat between these two – wowza! One of the things I find frustrating about reading YA is that they often tame down that heat. That certainly wasn’t my experience, and I love reading books that take you right to that sexual edge. We’re not reading an adult romance novel, obviously, but teenagers have heat. They have amazing first kisses and they have sexual feelings and conversations and dry humping and even, yes, intercourse. Jenn Bennett writes about all of that with supreme grace and delicious little details (I will never look at a belt buckle the same way again) that bring their teenage sexuality to life.
The book is told primarily from Bex’s POV, though that doesn’t mean we’re at a loss for what the other characters are going through either. The secondary characters primarily include Heath, the older, more rebellious, gay brother; “Saint Noah,” the brother’s boyfriend (quick shout-out to LGBT secondary characters done correctly!); “Nurse Katherine,” the mother; and “Pandhandler Will,” the homeless man who’s somewhat instrumental in getting “Sad Girl” and “Monk” together. Secondary characters include Jack’s parents, Bex’s father who abandoned them when he ran off with his stripper girlfriend (or did he??), Jack’s sister, and a few of Jack’s friends. Bex’s friends are vague tertiary characters, which I’m usually not a fan of, as I like to see a girl with an active and strong supportive circle, but her family is so clearly written and obviously involved that I didn’t miss the friends at all.
Another thing that makes me so in love with this book is the lack of game-playing. Can I get an AMEN?
Mini-rant: I’m so tired of teenage characters who are all “me, me, me,” “drama, drama, drama,” “my life is sooooo fucked up you guys, like, you don’t even know, and that means I can be all selfish and an asshole and you have to forgive me.” No. I’m glad those books exist for those who need to read them, but give me characters who can be both upset about life’s unfair twists and turns, yet still show compassion to themselves and others any day. Thank you, Jenn Bennett, for writing a book like that.
Because that’s the thing about this book – it’s not fluffy. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that bad things, unfair things, happen to good people. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but Jack’s very public family has been through a lot. Bex’s parents divorced a few years ago and we all have heard the continuing fallout that can happen from that type of situation (especially when the father has – allegedly – disappeared and refused to pay child support). Two teenagers who are willing to do almost anything to express their artwork are also bound to make a few bad decisions in the pursuit of love and craft. But that doesn’t mean the story can’t be a lovely, well-written, contemporary, quirky, young adult novel full of hope and mistakes and forgiveness all with a promising ending.
While this book very much stands on its own two feet, it reminded me of some of my favorites in the YA/teen romance literary canon, such as (mostly linked to my book reviews of them):
- My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
- Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
- The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
- Jennifer E. Smith’s books: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, This is What Happy Looks Like, The Geography of You and Me, etc.
- The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (this is technically adult fiction and a translation from Swedish, but it’s equally charming and perfectly acceptable for a 16-and-up audience)
The Anatomical Shape of a Heart/Night Owls is following in some pretty large footsteps (in my opinion) and totally lives up to it. I could barely sleep last night because I felt positively giddy, like I had actually just fallen in love, whether with the entire book, Jack, or Jack & Bex, I really wasn’t sure. I was already in love with Jenn Bennett, as I devoured the first three books of her 1920s paranormal romance series, Roaring Twenties (book 4 soon, please!!). My desperation at having finished that series but being in the library queue for book 1 of her other paranormal romance series, Arcadia Bell, led me to her YA novel, and boy am I so glad it did.
Do yourself a favor and go read this book right now.