Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Penguin (10 May 2012)
‘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.’
How would you feel if your twin sister died suddenly? Particularly if she was the beautiful one and you were horribly disfigured.
And how would it feel to be alone now if you and your sister were the only ones to know the truth about what takes place behind closed doors at home?
And what would you do if it was your parents who brought danger and terror into your life? Would you dare reveal how your sister died?
And would you be brave enough to find an escape of your own?
Black Heart Blue is a powerful novel about the domestic horrors that can unfold within a small community – and one girl’s quest to stand up for the truth.
Part One of Black Heart Blue is narrated in the first person alternating between Hephzibah and Rebecca. From Hephzi we learn about their lives leading up to her death and from Rebecca, how life is afterwards. Part Two is narrated by Rebecca and offers the reader a glimmer of sunshine after the darkness of Part One.
Living in the vicarage with their charismatic father (the vicar) and their ‘silent’ mother, they’ve been home-schooled all their lives until it’s time for 6th form when their father agrees they can attend the local college.
The twins have to learn about how the world works away from the vicarage. Having been isolated for much of their lives they have to learn how to act with peers, how to read the unwritten social code.
Rebecca has a syndrome that makes her different from everyone else around her and because of the lack of basic care, she is further isolated. Hepzhibah is bright and chatty and manages to fit in.
As the story progresses the reader understands more about the truth of what takes place in the dark and soulless vicarage. Everything we take for granted in our lives is missing from theirs. The roles our society assigns our parents – to nurture, to meet our very basic needs of cleanliness, food and safety – are missing.
The writing is beautiful. Poignantly, Rebecca says after Hepzhi’s death:
“Most of all Hephzi wanted revenge. So far I didn’t dare spill her secret but maybe one day, if my soul ever found a place to breathe, I would.” (page 90)
We do see Rebecca grow as a character. Despite the tension and anxiety that rules her life, there’s a river of steel inside which reigns at the right time.
At the end of the book, there are links to find out more about the syndrome Rebecca has (I don’t want to say too much in my review!) and support for teens dealing with all the different types of abuse and bereavement. This is followed by Reading Group Questions. The questions are thought-provoking.
Black Heart Blue is a deeply traumatic story. There are uplifting moments from other character’s actions and the very last sentence warms your heart … but for me, the over-riding feeling was one of sadness and injustice.
For a debut novel, Black Heart Blue certainly provokes a host of emotions. It’s a powerful novel which is aimed at the Young Adult/crossover audience. I will be looking out for other novels from this author in the future.
I would like to thank the publishers, Penguin, for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.