Tuesday 15 May 2012

Heart-Shaped Bruise review

Heart-Shaped Bruise
Tanya Byrne
10th May 2012

They say I'm evil. The police. The newspapers. The girls from school who shake their heads on the six o’clock news and say they always knew there was something not quite right about me. And everyone believes it. Including you. But you don't know. You don't know who I used to be. 

Who I could have been.

Awaiting trial at Archway Young Offenders Institution, Emily Koll is going to tell her side of the story for the first time. 

Heart-Shaped Bruise is a compulsive and moving novel about infamy, identity and how far a person might go to seek revenge.

Okay, I have no idea how I'm going to express my feelings for this book well, but I'll give it a go. Heart-Shaped Bruise is kind of a weird one for me because I feel kind of conflicted about it. Like, I know that I loved it, and I know that it was kind an amazing, but I can definitely see that it's not going to be to everyone's taste. The closest parallel I can draw to it is Entangled, so if you liked that (and I loved it) then you'll probably like this too. I'm most conflicted about Emily, because I'm still not sure whether I liked her or not, but I was completely engaged in her story regardless.

I thought it was really interesting that this story was told from the antagonists point of view, which I know kind of makes her, well, not the antagonist, but in a way she is because no one is more antagonist to Emily, I think, than herself. It was Emily's ideal of revenge and this built up resentment towards Juliet that was the bad guy, and I feel like there were two very different sides to Emily herself - one being this resentful person, and the other being who she used to be - and she has a very distinct idea of who they both are, even if she thinks that they're still two very separate people. I think that it was evident the further through the book you got that she still was the Emily she used to be, in a way, in that she wasn't evil. She's messed up, I'll grant you that, but she isn't evil.

Which is why my feelings about her are still so confused! I liked her a lot of the time, I genuinely did, because she wasn't always this person caught up on revenge. There were times, especially when she was looking back at her times with Sid, that she just wasn't hell-bent on causing Juliet's demise, and she was just normal and likeable. It's obvious that she's a really unstable person, and her narration isn't completely to be trusted, but I really think that it was the best way of telling this story. Her narrative is really gripping and I was kind of morbidly fascinated in hearing her side of the story. And about ten pages before the big realisation I just kind of figured what she did and I kind of wanted to stop reading. I don't know why, I just didn't want it to be confirmed, I guess, but it still shocked me when I read it. It really screwed up my perception, having the story told in this way, because there were a lot of times where I forgot that she was in there for a reason, and that she'd done something terrible. 

The story is told as kind of a journal that Emily keeps during her time at Archway Young Offender's Institution, and I think the fact that it was told like this, and that Emily being the unreliable narrator that she was only helped in telling the story, because it allowed you to see everything as it was to her. And I really like reading books where the main character probably isn't to be trusted, and where she isn't really all that likeable, but you still kind of like her anyway, and I like reading books that kind of fuck with my morals (like Stolen, and Forbidden). I love reading books that make me feel for someone that I know I would loathe if I saw their stories in the news, and that make me really, really think. And I still feel a little bit like I'm recovering emotionally from this book, because Emily is kind of stripped down to just being Emily again after being someone else for so long, and when you think about how she was labelled as a monster and as evil, and read her story and you feel kind of sorry for her because she wasn't always like this. And you kind of want to hate Juliet a little bit too, because she did the right thing, and took the right way of starting to recover from your life being destroyed where Emily went wrong. And it makes you think was it always in her? Was she always that way? Because her did was a gangster, therefore she must be following in his footsteps, right? I still don't know.

I think that this is a way more interesting story that what the idea started out being, as Tanya said that originally it was Juliet's story and it was told from Juliet's point of view, and I just don't think that would've been as good. I do really think, though, that the fact that she knew everything that had happened to Juliet from Juliet's perspective already really helped with giving the story more texture that it already had, and gave it more emotional depth. I really wanted to dislike Juliet, but I really couldn't and I don't think that would've been the case if there wasn't a really clear idea of what she'd been through and how she'd felt about it in the author's head. Or I could just be completely overthinking the whole thing, and Tanya's just really freaking good at writing characters. 

I really loved Sid too, and he totally needs his whole paragraph and not just because he was a swoon worthy boy. He was a million things other than that, and I feel terrible that he got caught up in everything that happened. If he hadn't have sat there in that first English lesson, hadn't spoken to them, things might've ended up differently. But there's always that possibility in stories like this, and if he hadn't then there wouldn't have been much of a story.

Tanya's writing was also amazing. Like, this is another one of those books that makes me feel like I should just never write anything again because I know I'll never be able to write a book with words and sentences and the emotional depth like this. It's really kind of beautiful, and I must just stop reading amazing books because I've read to many of them lately and my brain can't handle it. I need to read something that isn't going to leave me feeling a little bit broken after I turn the final page (though I love it really.)

Heart-Shaped Bruise was a pretty incredible debut, and I think the emotional impact it had on me left a heart-shaped bruise (okay, so that pun didn't go as well as intended...). I have no idea if this even made that much sense, but as long as the overall message got across, I don't really mind. 


  1. I definitely understand where you're coming from in regards to your conflicted feelings towards Emily. I felt the same, but I came to the conclusion that even though she had done something terrible it wasn't completely her fault. No-one was really there for her when she was grieving and trying to understand her life turning upside down. She had no one to point her in the right direction. By the way, I loved your review :)

  2. "I really like reading books where the main character probably isn't to be trusted, and where she isn't really all that likeable, but you still kind of like her anyway, and I like reading books that kind of fuck with my morals..."

    Lol us too.

    Awesome review! We haven't heard about this book yet, but now we're very curious. It sounds really interesting and well-written. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. What We Heart YA said! The messed-up ones are always the best ;)

    And I so agree with you about Sid. The tree bit!! Great review! I am so excited to read whatever Tanya Byrne writes next.


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