Lisa Unger: Heartbroken (2012)
Hi everyone. I have to say, today was fairly disappointing - the weather was shit and that ultimately meant I couldn't take any new pictures for reviews (not that I, honestly, wanted to, and it isn't like I don't have pictures for products on the ever-growing waiting list), nor could I go walking (which is what I wholeheartedly wanted to do). The rain, one could argue, was the appropriate soundtrack to get through the last bit of the star of today's post - Lisa Unger's thriller, Heartbroken (2012) - but, honestly (again), I didn't even feel like reading. I didn't feel like doing anything.
Reminds me of my pajama shirt that reads "It's one of those days." Oh yes, yes it is.
Surprise, surprise - I don't want to write a review right now! But I'm pushing myself to do it because I did indeed finish Heartbroken and the best time to write a book review is, literally, as soon as possible after the book is done. 'Sides, it's not like I didn't like the story!
After I finished The Sugar Queen, I wasn't sure where to take my reading next. It's hard to find a book, and author, that can securely follow a novel of your favorite author, after all. At some point I was going on and on about one of my all-time favorite books, Stephen King's Duma Key, and then about the paperbacks I had lounging around my room waiting to be read - Heartbroken being one of them. "The title alone - Heartbroken - makes it sound like it's going to be bad. And look - it was part of a Buy 2, Get the 3rd FREE deal." I was telling my boyfriend all of this. "If it sucks, I'll be doomed, because I don't like to not finish a book."
I'm awful. I apologize, Mrs. Unger.
Before I knew it, I was reading about Birdie Burke, her family's Heart Island, and its many ghosts and dark family secrets. All of a sudden, it felt like I was back in Duma Key. That's a well-deserved slap to the face.
Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, I enjoyed Duma Key, by far, more than Heartbroken. But that's not to say that Heartbroken wasn't near-addictive, or had incidents I wasn't made to care about. Lisa Unger is indeed an impressive writer, and Heartbroken was a great read.
There were a few personal pitfalls in this novel. For one, I wasn't actually scared during the dark, climactic events. One reason I purchased this book is because it is described as a psychological thriller, and it is that, but just like many of King's horrors don't scare me, this one didn't disturb me. Then there's the fact that the ghosts on Heart Island, though present, are more alive in the journals of Birdie's sister, Caroline, and her mother, Lana, than they are on the island itself. And then there were the events that moved me more at the book's beginning and middle than the ones being built up to at the end.
With those aside, let's move on to the strengths that this novel showcased. Two separate paths - that of Kate Burke as the approach of her annually dreaded family trip to Heart Island enters present-time and that of Emily Burke as she makes decisions that send her life to ruins - meet on this one island, Heart Island, where paradise and memories take a full turn for the worst. I found myself attached mostly to Birdie Burke's story and Emily Burke's story - Kate Burke and her family did not appeal to me as much.
Birdie is a cold, to-the-point, fearless character that I found refreshing in the novel. Emily is a scared, troubled, regretful character whose naive sense of hope was both touching and frustrating. For Birdie, the truth of her parents, her marriage, and her relationship with her children and the island is almost completely revealed. For Emily, she faces loss after loss after loss of all the people she cares about, until a kind of peace is achieved at the novel's end. Her story affected me the most of all the characters, truthfully speaking.
As for Kate, Chelsea, and Lulu - what can I say? I thought more would be attached to them, or that they, too, would face some kind of great loss. They do find themselves in a life-death situation near the novel's end, but I feel like Kate is primarily a capsule to carry and transfer the truth about Birdie's family, and the friendship between Chelsea and Lulu doesn't really reach a deeper level, in my opinion. They argue, they make up out of fear, and they survive - the end.
Where I think Unger's writing really shines - besides her ability to tie so many characters' stories together - is in her way of making us, the readers, care. While Brad was inarguably the villain that has no comprehension of life and what it really means to kill another person, there is his partner and once "friend" Dean - Emily's boyfriend who constantly puts her in dangerous situations. He is clearly poisoning her life - causing her to lose jobs, putting her in the position of stealing for his drug addiction, and ultimately using her to lure out people she cares about - and innocent people - and put them in danger. At times when Emily doesn't make the right decisions while naively hoping for a happy future with Dean, I found myself frustrated with her and wanting her to dump Dean and leave him to deal with his problems by himself. But when Dean is crying at the mercy of Brad's gun - and times before this final one as well - you can't help but feel for him.
Unger makes you feel sorry for Dean by constantly giving glimpses into his mind, where he says that Emily deserves better and where his desire to give Emily a good life trumps everything else. She is his last thought, and all he wants is to apologize for robbing her of so much. You know that he cares about her, but in knowing this Unger also manages to shed light on the scariest truth in this novel: that some things - people - can't change, and that no matter how good a person may be at the core - no matter how much love they may possibly, truthfully have for another - sometimes they have to be left alone. Sometimes they have to be eradicated from the world, no matter which form death takes them through.
That's the aspect of the novel that disturbed me the most - not the love triangles or the potentially dark death-or-suicide of Richard Cameron. And it was this less than ideal reality coupled with the potential truth of Birdie's birth - which I won't spoil for you here - that truly won the book over for me. I'll admit, I wasn't as eager to get to the end of this book as I have been with others, but the story as a whole was one I did enjoy regardless.
So, Lisa Unger's Heartbroken was a pleasant surprise. It was the first book I read with current technology - Skype and Facebook coming up a lot with teenage Chelsea - and while I thought those kinds of things would irk me, they actually contrasted nicely with the isolated Heart Island. Although the setting was one I adored and definitely did have the potential, in my opinion, for more thrilling events, it still paled in comparison to my favorite island horror, Duma Key. Or perhaps that's why I find some disappointment in Heartbroken - because I keep comparing it to an old favorite. Ah, well - do with that what you will.
I still recommend this book if stories laden with ghosts and secrets and set on an isolated island appeal to you. And I do plan on looking into Lisa Unger's other works as well. With that being said, I hope you found this review enjoyable, and thanks for stopping by. 'Til next time! ('<>')>
Curious about my copy? Take a look:
Unger, Lisa. Heartbroken. New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2012. Print.