When I read Jo Treggiari‘s The Grey Sisters, I was captivated by the characters and plot; these were genuine people, not stereotypes or attempts to prove open-mindedness. It was as though the author had met and interviewed these characters and recorded their stories. In Heartbreak Homes, a YA novel, there is similar strength. Frankie, Martin, and Cara are fundamentally good people, but like good people in crisis, they do not always make the best choices. They are real, and the author presents each with skill and feeling. The other characters are also well-developed; in Drew, for example, we see the anger and despair and yes, the violence, but also the loyalty and glimpses of the Drew that was, long ago. Life happens; the author narrates honestly, and without judgment. As Martin’s father advises, “It is not only about what happened…. That’s never neat and tidy. The only way you can find some kind of truth is by giving the victims a voice too…. Make sure their stories are told.”
The novel opens with a massive party in an abandoned real estate project, hosted by the project leader’s son. In attendance are many young people, including Frankie, shadowing her childhood friend and painfully aware that she does not fit in. Martin, whose father recently lost everything, is now very much outside the world his old friends still inhabit. And we have homeless infiltrators, Cara and her girls, who come looking for items to use and sell. By morning, there is a dead body, obviously the victim of foul play. Frankie leads the way in sorting out the murder, mainly out of concern for her friend’s safety, and as the truth is revealed, we learn something about the strengths and weaknesses, the nobility and nastiness, that are all part of the human condition.
To tell a story from multiple perspectives is always challenging, but the author enters the mindset and the voice of each of the three narrators well, and thus the storyline remains clear. Although there are some similar reference points for Frankie and Martin, the author frames their narration with enough unique references to maintain clarity. We move smoothly from one narrative viewpoint to another.
Suspense is well-developed: even when I finally began to realize who must be responsible for the deaths (for there was more than one), I read on, eager to learn why. Jo Treggiari holds our attention, right to the last page. We learn that there are no easy lives and that every action has an effect on the world.
I can see this novel starting powerful conversations in a classroom or in a staffroom or on a street corner. Literature that is unafraid of the hard truths, that tells the story with authenticity, is literature that we need. I highly recommend this book, not just for youth, but for anyone who believes in the young, in all their challenges, in all their hope. For with characters like Cara, Frankie, and Martin, we are definitely moved to hope.
About the Author
Jo Treggiari was born in London, England, and raised in Canada. She spent many years in Oakland, California, and New York, where she trained as a boxer, wrote for a punk magazine, and owned a gangster rap/indie rock record label. Her most recent YA novels are Blood Will Out, a psychological thriller, published by Penguin Teen (2018), and a second thriller, The Grey Sisters (Penguin Teen, 2019), which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary award and was shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis award.
- Publisher: Vagrant Press (Oct. 11, 2022)
- Language: English
- Paperback: 304 pages
- ISBN-10: 1774711168
- ISBN-13: 978-1774711163
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