{Early Review} Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker

Unbreak My Heart by Melissa C. Walker

Melissa Walker’s new novel had an uphill battle with me.

You see, it managed to remind me of The Worst Earworm Ever. During my sophomore year of Professional Nerding School (aka college at American University), Toni Braxton’s Un-Break My Heart was everywhere I turned. I’d hear it playing on MTV in the dorm lounge, on the radio in the cafeteria, blasting on “boomboxes” (yep, we still had those in the nineties)… everywhere.

Toni’s soulful crooning* drove me nuts for months on end. 

However, don’t let this book fool you like it did me. 

Unbreak My Heart is a charming, heartfelt read about friendship, family, first love and second chances. 

At first glance, Unbreak My Heart seems like a generic YA title. It’s a summer story about a teen girl, Clementine, who made the mistake of falling for her best buddy’s boyfriend. The resulting fallout is brutal, leaving her friendless. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), she’s dragged onto her family’s sailboat for a summer of isolation on the Mississippi River—away from home, away from friends, away from technology. 

You’ve read this one a lot, right? Me too.

But there’s a unique quality to Melissa C. Walker’s take on this story that makes it stand apart from a sea of similar summertime stories. 

Told in chapters alternating between the summer sailing trip and the events leading up to the Clementine’s split with her friends, Unbreak My Heart takes us on two journeys—one toward social isolation and one toward connection. On the boat, Clementine finds refuge in her iPod, isolating herself from her family, including annoying little sister, Olive. (I find it extremely amusing the sisters are named after fruits.)

Then I push myself up and hurry to my room before another wave hits. I turn on my iPod and close my eyes, feeling the fury of the storm outside echo my internal state. And because I’m dorky, I think of it as objective correlative, like in English class when the environment is mirroring what the character feels inside. Except this isn’t a book— it’s my dark and stormy life.

However, as much as the boating community loves puns (oh, yeah!), they love to socialize even more, so isolation isn’t quite as easy as Clem would like—particularly after she meet-cutes red-headed artist and fellow teenage sailor James, who’s traveling the same route as Clem’s family in a sailboat with his father. 

Unsurprisingly, we get a sweet teen romance, but what really surprised me was that (I hope this isn’t considered a spoiler) the story’s not so much about the romance, nor is it about Clementine getting over the guy from back home. Instead, the core of Unbreak My Heart is about recovering from losing a friendship—which is a painful thing, especially for young people. 

And that’s how my self-hating voices go. They also like to look at last year’s photos and feel nostalgic for something that never should have been. It’s how they roll.

Damn voices.

My biggest niggle with Unbreak My Heart is that I really didn’t understand why Clementine cared so much about her friend back home.

That sounds harsh, I realize, but it’s true. I understood that they were people she’d known her since she was young, and as a young person, that’s often all you need to qualify for friendship. However, Amanda (the BFF whose boyfriend she was crushing on) didn’t make much of an impression, so I felt disconnected from Clem’s sadness over losing that relationship. The relationships that develop after that point—both with new love interest James and her parents and sister—felt more rich and meaningful, which was perhaps intentional and the underlying message of Unbreak My Heart. I just don’t know.

Melissa’s previous book, Small Town Sinners, was quite excellent, though I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience of reading it (it reminded me of the more unpleasant aspects of my hometown). But unlike that book, this one is a real “Sarah Book.” It also reminded me of another Sarah, Sarah Dessen—fans of the Queen of Contemporary YA will adore Unbreak My Heart. Like Dessen’s novels, Unbreak My Heart addresses realistic issues like depression, divorce and loss with sensitivity and authenticity (no Magical Restorative Kisses™ here) that’s kind of a rare kind in contemporary YA—and completely worth the guaranteed earworm.

FNL Character Rating: There are tinges of Julie Taylor and Matt Saracen in this one. For real, y’all. 

{Unbreak My Heart releases on May 22, 2012}

{Preorder it at Amazon | BN | Book Depository}

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Note: I received an early copy of Unbreak My Heart from the publisher via Net Galley. I received no compensation or “goodies” in exchange for this honest review. 

*Can women croon? I always associate it with men, like say, Barry Manilow, The Showman of Our Time. (s/o to Jessica Darling & Marcus Flutie)

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