Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things 
Author: Jacquline Firkins
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Published: December 17th, 2019
Pages: 384
*Thank you HMH for a complimentary copy of the book!*
In this charming debut about first love and second chances, a young girl gets caught between the boy next door and a playboy. Perfect for fans of To All The Boys I've Loved Before. Mansfield, Massachusetts is the last place seventeen-year-old Edie Price wants to spend her final summer before college. It’s the home of wealthy suburbanites and prima donnas like Edie’s cousins, who are determined to distract her from her mother’s death with cute boys and Cinderella-style makeovers. Edie has her own plans, and they don’t include a prince charming. But as Edie dives into schoolwork and applying for college scholarships, she finds herself drawn to two Mansfield boys who start vying for her attention. First there's Sebastian, Edie’s childhood friend and first love. He’s sweet and smart and . . . already has a girlfriend. Then there's Henry, the local bad boy and all-around player. He’s totally off limits, even if his kisses are chemically addictive. Both boys are trouble. Edie can’t help but get caught between them. Someone's heart is going to break. Now she just has to make sure it isn't hers. 

Why I skip The "You're So Beautiful" Scene

I love romances. I read them voraciously, but like most readers, I have my pet peeves: overly possessive and protective guys; girls who are continually admired for being petite, quiet, demure, shy, and otherwise small within their world; and the “You’re so beautiful” scene. This scene is ubiquitous in romances of all genres. Start watching for it and you’ll see it pop up. Whether set in an elaborate fantasy world or a contemporary high school, if a hetero-normative love story is at the center of a novel or movie, you’re bound to find a scene where a guy looks at a girl, tells her how beautiful she is, and her confidence skyrockets. Now she knows she’s in love. Before it was a mystery. Helpful clues that this scene is coming: the girl lets down her ponytail, takes off her glasses, puts on a red dress, or walks slowly down a set of stairs toward her awaiting man. I see the value in this scene. It’s relatable and appealing. My confidence gets a boost when I receive compliments, too, especially if they’re directed at the traits I spend the most time criticizing in myself. Being seen and admired feels good. Physical attraction is an undeniable part of romantic love, even when it gets couched in words like spark and chemistry. I enjoy sensing attraction on the page or screen. It builds anticipation. It can be exhilarating when it finally draws two people together. But the way these scenes are often presented adds up to a repeated message: a girl’s self-worth and value as a romantic partner are uniquely dependent on whether or not a guy finds her physically attractive.

I was thrilled when I read Veronica Roth’s Divergent and the heroine mentions not being pretty. The guy responds with something to the effect of “I like how you look” and we move on. It was a refreshing change from many of the other YA stories I’d been reading, ones in which this would be a pivotal moment for the developing relationship. I also loved the romance at the center of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. The two characters are physically attracted to each other, but Park’s sense of Eleanor’s beauty comes after he finds so much else to love about her. And while he remarks that he’s astonished he didn’t see her beauty initially, he says it to himself, not to her. What they tell each other in person runs deeper. I think we need more love stories like this, stories for those of us who don’t walk through life expecting guys to fall all over us because of how pretty we are. I spent my teenage years knowing in my bones that I didn’t deserve romantic love because I didn’t have the kind of looks that would ever warrant that key scene. Only when I read Jane Eyre did I start to think maybe I did have a shot at romantic love, though hopefully not with a guy who secretly keeps his wife locked in the attic.

As YA romances continue to diversify in lots of profound ways, I hope we see more stories about girls whose self-worth isn’t linked so tightly to their appearance. Where being seen is presented on a deeper level. In Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things, I wrote a character who has a conflicted relationship with her appearance. I didn’t bury her desire to feel desired. But I didn’t put Edie’s relationship with her appearance at the center of her story. It’s part of who she is, as is her academic ambition, her creative expression, and her sexual desire. She finds love because of who she is, not because of how she looks. It’s only one story among many, but if I can help even one teenage girl get through adolescence without the crippling sense that romantic love is reserved for other, better-looking people, I’ve spent my time well.

Jacqueline's a writer, costume designer, and lover of beautiful things. She's on the full-time faculty in the Department of Theatre & Film at the University of British Columbia where she also takes any writing class they’ll let her into. When not obsessing about where to put the buttons or the commas, she can be found running by the ocean, eating excessive amounts of gluten, listening to earnest love songs, and pretending her dog understands every word she says.