Unbreak My Heart by Melissa C. Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
We meet MC Clementine as her family - Clem, her teacher dad, her on-sabbatical lawyer mom, and her precocious 10 yo sister Olive - are embarking on "The Williams Family Summer of Boating," a three month sail trip from their suburban Chicago home base, all the way down the Mississipi river. Clem, however, is in no mood to enjoy the trip, her family, or anything else. There was this incident, you see, just two weeks earlier, that ended up breaking both her heart and her relationship with long term bff Amanda. I don't want to say too much about what happened between Clementine, Amanda and Amanda's new boyfriend Ethan, since that story is told in chapters that alternate with the story of the summer trip, and part of the book's considerable emotional impact is the slow and rather painful unfolding of exactly what took place. Suffice it to say that as the trip begins Clementine is broken-hearted, ashamed and deeply hurt by the incident and the social opprobrium that followed.
Rivers flow slowly but powerfully, and their currents take some things away and bring other things together. Like James, the red-headed boy Clem meets at their first stop for provisions. James' unfailing good cheer at times threatens to irritate the moody Clem. Eventually, however, she can't help but succumb to his considerable charm as time wears on and their families continue to meet, since James and his father are making the same trip as the Williams. As Clem and James grow closer, she comes to realize that James is not without his own issues and concerns, and that perspective helps as she confronts the past and begins to heal.
This is a lovely, sweet, slow moving, thoughtful and often funny book. It's not really a romance, although there is some very sweet romance, it's more a growing up, family drama kind of story. One of the really wonderful things about this book is the portrayal of the relationship between Clementine and her family. Fully functioning families are kind of rare in YA-dom, but the author does a lovely job of creating one here. Clem's parents are appropriately clueless, crazy-making and intrusive, but also supportive sources of wisdom and unconditional love in the face of overwhelming adolescent angst. Little sister Olive is an especially charming character, funny and direct, saying what everyone else is thinking, but also full of bewildered tenderness for her wounded and sometimes hurtful sister. They, and James, are part of what helps Clementine achieve some perspective about herself, what she did, what is real and what is all in her head, and how she can start to heal and move on with her life.
This is a great read - the story is sweet, the prose is lyrical and evocative, creating a rich atmosphere of the river and its rhythms, and the sweet slow pace of a summer spent growing, healing and appreciating what is, what was lost, and what can be regained. It's also pretty doggone funny at times, I don't want to give the impression it's all unremittingly broody and moody. The characters and the banter among them are just too witty and fun to let that happen. Definitely a book to savor, and one that makes me anxious to read Melissa's other books!
I was kindly provided an advance copy of this by the publisher through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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