The picture of a girl standing with her back turned in front of a grave. In a black dress and holding a startling pink umbrella. The luring words on the back: “They tried to make me go to my sister’s funeral today. In the end I’d had to give in … I’d been walking in her shadow for sixteen years and I liked its cool darkness. It was a good place to hide.”
It’s been more than two years since I first heard about “Black Heart Blue” by Louise Reid. And throughout those two years, I have looked for it in every bookshop I went into and kept it at the back of my mind. I am not a huge fan of non-supernatural YA – it’s just usually not something I enjoy immensely, but for some reason this book stayed on my TBR-list whenever I cleaned out and discarded many of the other books that I decided to add on a whim.
And then 2 weeks ago, there it was. Staring right at me from the shelf – with the “wrong” cover, but “Black Heart Blue” nonetheless. So I took it home with me and now I’ve read it. And I liked it. Liked its dark and heartbreaking story of two girls brought up by a tyrannical and sadistic father, and a pliable and hateful mother. Of the girls’ struggles and dreams of leading a normal life with friends, school and maybe even love. But I never grew to love the book and considering the expectations that had grown slowly over the two years, I suppose I was a bit disappointed. Yet, the fault lies entirely with me.
“I’ve recorded today as another black day and it’s there, a story inscribed hard on my heart. The tales I keep hidden within are many; if you ever open me up then you’ll read the proof. Look inside, peel back skin and flesh and bone, and there you’ll find a library of pain…some things are too terrible to tell and those words are buried deep.”
“Black Heart Blue” is the story of twin sisters Rebecca and Hephzibah – one beautiful and charming, the other deformed by a cruel illness and withdrawn. Both girls suffer through the terrible life that they have been brought up in and cling to each other for support and a hope that one day they will break free. But for the beautiful Hephzibah, life ends too quickly, and the story is told alternately by Rebecca after her sister’s death and by Hephzibah from before it all went wrong.
I really liked Rebecca’s voice and the internal dialogue that is used to expecting the worst, misses her sister terribly and yet still somehow manages to slowly believe that there could be something more, something better than the life she has had so far.As for Hephzibah (such a mouthful, I’m still not sure how to pronounce it!), I honestly thought her an ungrateful and selfish brat most of the time – pretending to not know her sister at all to get in with the popular kids, continuously accepting Rebecca’s sacrifice to avoid being beaten by their father and just her quite “I-really-can’t-be-bothered” teenage voice whenever she comes up against Rebecca’s worries.
As an adult (at least officially), I can look back on my teenage years and understand why Hephzibah acts the way she does, and given the girls’ history, I can also sympathize with her overwhelming need to do almost anything for any semblance of a real, normal life. But nonetheless, I found it very difficult to align Hephzibah’s own thoughts and actions with the picture Rebecca draws of her sister. And it makes it difficult for me to actually feel the love and grief for her sister that is Rebecca’s primary motivator and driving force.
“Black Heart Blue” is a tragic and heart-breaking story of human evil and ignorance. But luckily also somewhat a story of hope and love and a persistent hope that someday the world will be less evil. And for a YA novel, it is a treat and a very well-written haunting tale of abuse and the struggle to carve out something that is light and happy despite horrendous circumstances, but I think I just forgot while I was reading that it is indeed written for young adults – not demanding, grumpy old “I’ve-waited-two-years-to-read-this” girls like me. And after all, I still thought it was a 4-star read.
Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid; published in May 2012 by Razorbill