Reviewed by Amanda Keats
Rebecca has to attend her beautiful twin sister Hephzi's funeral. But it's all a farce. She knows what really happened to her sister and now she is alone at the vicarage, with The Mother and The Father. Will she be brave enough to finally escape the hold her parents have over her, having led such a closed-off life?
A book that starts with a funeral is never going to be a cheerful story, but this powerful debut from Author Louisa Reid is anything but depressing. This young adult/crossover novel looks at the bond between twins when they have been raised in an abusive environment by parents who are fixated on repentence and punishment, devoid of love and affection.
These sisters have led a sheltered life but a horrific one nonetheless so when they are both allowed to go to school in their teens and finally socialise with other people, they react differently. The differences between sisters goes far more than just one being quiet and unattractive while the other is beautiful and confident. Rebecca has been born with a disorder that has left her almost completely deaf and her facial bones disfigured. She is used to the stares, the looks of horror as she passes, and resigns herself to a life in the shadows. Hephzi, on the other hand, is so determined to be 'normal' she starts to do all she can to fit in with the cool kids at school. This involves dressing, talking and acting like them – and leaving her sister out of it. As the book progresses - switching between present and past, Rebecca and Hephzi – truths are revealed that will horrify and shock many readers and in that lies the book's biggest strength.
Reid is not afraid to look at something truly disturbing just because this book is targeted at young adults. She looks not just at the complexities of sibling relationships but at domestic abuse, disability, society's perceptions and the lengths many go to just to try to fit in. The book remains compelling throughout thanks largely to its dual timespan. There is the mystery of how Hephzi died to discover but there is also Rebecca as she moves forward. She is the driving force behind the story and the more that is revealed about her, the more the reader wills her to break free of her parents. There is also a concurrent theme that is merely hinted at for most of the book, forcing you to ask the questions for yourself as you read. Why has nobody noticed? Why has nobody done anything to stop it? Society and social prejudices and perceptions are a vital part in this story and extremely relevant to many people's everyday life.
The success over the last few years of crossover novels is a true testament to the quality of young adult fiction being written. Books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and The Curious Incident by Mark Haddon have been read by adults the world over because they were creative and imaginative without being patronising or dumbing down for younger readers. There is often an argument about keeping certain elements from children – the violence in The Hunger Games or the deaths in Harry Potter being heavily debated – and Black Heart Blue does the same thing by looking at elements most young adult authors would shy away from. Children are being abused. Children have disabilities. So a book that looks at how to deal with these issues and move forward is essential reading for children and adults alike.
Expect great things from Louisa Reid in the future. Black Heart Blue is a powerful and courageous debut that will keep you hooked to the very last page.