Wednesday, 21 August 2013

review: The Heartbreak Messenger

by Alexander Vance
Fiewel & Friends (Macmillan), July 23 2013
middle-grade contemporary
review copy received from publisher (thank you!)

Quentin doesn’t really see anything wrong with being the Heartbreak Messenger. He delivers break-up messages, he gets paid, and his mother gets to be a little less worried about money for paying rent. But as he gets deeper and deeper in, the emotions involved on all sides start to make it clear that there’s nothing simple about love—especially when he receives a break-up message for his best friend Abby.
The cover:

Oh, God. Can I just… not? I mean, the script font by itself might be okay, but the wings are just over-the-top. And the anthropomorphism of candy hearts! Who thought that would a be good idea? Who thought it would be representative of the book? I feel awful for the author. :/

The book:

The Heartbreak Messenger is a fun, light contemporary that deals with love (or “like”) from an interesting perspective. Quentin is the perfect narrator for this kind of story; he’s considerate, occasionally bumbling, but also genuinely thirteen-year-old boy. You know:
At the front of the room sat half-a-dozen refreshment tables stacked full of sugar, fat, frosting, and whatever the other food groups are. They were like heavy cargo ships ripe for plunder. (p. 38)
He and Rob are a wonderfully unpretentious, down-to-earth pair of friends, making for a marked contrast with Abby. The novel is a quick read, and due to its length we only get very brisk, drama-filled scenes with Abby, which is unfortunate; not only does it render the possibility of a tendre between her and Quentin implausible, but it stunts Abby’s growth as a character.

But perhaps that’s to be expected, given the very large cast Vance introduces in the course of 280 pages. And the different personages are what give this book its texture, given the rather simplistic plot which might’ve been solved had Quentin sat down for an upfront conversation with his mother. Speaking of which, his mother is a delightfully-developed adult character (three cheers for non-evil adults!), and together their conversations give the (relatively) heavy topic of Quentin’s errant father its due.

Despite the straightforward story arc, The Heartbreak Messenger is a well-paced read, and its pure middle-grade-ness will likely please MG fans:
As I stood there, the two old ladies stepped up beside me to stare at Justin’s candy dish commode.
“Well, I have to say, that looks like a toilet full of candy to me,” said one.
“Better than a toilet full of something else,” said the other.
They both cackled. (p.48)

Ethnic balance: 2 out of 5. A girl named LaTisha has “big hair”, but otherwise we’ve got a horde of names like Samantha, Bethany, Lizzy, Karyn (?!), Ty, Duke, Lisa…

Rating: 3.5 out of 5