Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book Review: "Foolish Hearts" by Emma Mills

Every so often, after I've read a number of thrillers, crime novels, or even emotionally draining books in a row, I seek out what I like to call a "literary palate-cleanser," essentially a book which appears to be a little bit lighter in tone and one which won't have me eyeing my neighbors and delivery men, expecting a crime to break out.

The "palate-cleanser" term isn't meant to be a disparaging one—sometimes I'm just looking for a book that's funny and/or sweet, that won't send my psyche or my suspicious nature into overdrive.

Emma Mills' new book, Foolish Hearts, seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. And to be honest, when I saw the book was ranked #1 in Amazon's category of "Teen & Young Adult Theater Fiction," I thought, as a former theater kid, how can I miss? But this is so much more than a book about the theater—it's a book about friendship, family, telling yourself and others the truth, facing your fears, and realizing that people are so much more than they seem upon first (or even second or third) impression.

Claudia attends the exclusive Prospect-Landower School for Girls, mainly because her father is a teacher there. She's much more comfortable hanging out at home, playing video games with her best friend Zoe and her older brother, and living a life in which she doesn't have to interact too much with her much wealthier classmates, some of whom are obscenely rich, and some are private-island rich. Claudia isn't interested in stepping outside her comfort zone at all since her boyfriend broke up with her a few years back.

"In truth, we are rarely all on the same page. More often than not, they're all on one page, and I'm on a completely different one. It can't be helped most of the time. Society itself puts us on different pages. They drive Range Rovers and have celebrity deejays at their sweet sixteens. I had to scrape and scrounge and toast subs, and remake the subs that I toasted badly, just to buy a car."

But in an effort to try and be more involved in school for her senior year, she attends a luncheon party thrown by one of her classmates, and almost instantly gets herself into trouble, as she winds up inadvertently overhearing the breakup of the couple in her class, Iris and Paige.

"Together, [Iris] and Paige hold the titles of class president three years running (Iris), most popular girl in our grade (Paige), and cutest couple in our school (collectively). Thought 'cutest' isn't quite right. I don't think anyone who knows her would use the word cute to describe anything relating to Iris Huang...she's also ruthless and unforgiving and, some would say, ill-mannered and incredibly unpleasant."

When Iris realizes Claudia has been eavesdropping on such a traumatic moment, she threatens to destroy Claudia if she tells anyone what she heard. And when an assigned pairing for an assignment goes completely awry, their "punishment" is to audition or be in the crew for the school play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although Iris gets a small part and Claudia gets to work on the costume crew, the two are thrown together more times than either can count, and Claudia starts to wear Iris down, at least a little, until Claudia realizes that Iris is uncharacteristically obsessed with a boy band that she enjoys, too.

As the two try and build something resembling a friendship, Claudia also keeps getting thrown together with Gideon Prewitt, the goofy, handsome star of the play. Gideon keeps sending Claudia signals that he'd like to get to know her better, and everyone, except Claudia, seems to understand this. But the more she starts thinking about Gideon that way, the more her fears keep tripping her up, so she keeps finding reasons to keep their relationship as fun and platonic as possible, because she can't imagine Gideon would reciprocate her feelings, or if he did, would she be discarded just as quickly?

Foolish Hearts is sweet and funny, full of flawed characters who won't tell anyone how they really feel, but it utterly warmed my heart. While high school is so much more complicated than it was back in the dark ages when I attended, Mills still evoked an incredible feeling of nostalgia for me, a longing for simpler times, when the biggest anxieties were doing well on exams and wondering whether someone liked you back.

The plot isn't necessarily surprising, but it is tremendously enjoyable. I liked the way Iris and Paige's relationship wasn't a source of drama or controversy, it was presented in a matter-of-fact way, simply as another plot point.

Foolish Hearts definitely fit the bill for what I was looking for in a read, and I'll be sure to read some of Mills' other books. If you enjoy YA fiction that doesn't necessarily come with any heavy drama or messages, give this a try.

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