BOOK CLUB: Heart-Shaped Bruise

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Author: Tanya Byrne
ISBN: 978-0-7553-9304-6
RRP: $22.99

This is the debut novel for English author Tanya Byrne and it is an extremely well written story that will captivate you start to finish.

At times Heart-Shaped Bruise was almost difficult to follow but it never quite allowed you to get lost, and you were warned right from the beginning that it was a possibility. This book isn’t written start to finish on a neat little timeline, it is written through a notebook left behind in a young offenders institution.

Emily Koll has done something terrible and she is in the Psych Unit of the Archway Young Offenders Institution awaiting trial. We don’t know what Emily’s done, it’s not something that she talks about. She talks about what the papers say and what other people say about her but you don’t hear much about what she thinks.

I am still thinking through this brilliant book so I’m at a loss for words, which is why I will first focus on the fact that at the end of the book there are two interesting sections which are becoming much more common in books these days. A Q&A with author Tanya Byrne that helps you get into her head and understand the motivations and inspirations behind the book, always an interesting read and great to do directly after reading the book while it is all still fresh. And a list of questions for reading groups, a great starting point for discussions and prompts for different ways to look at the book too.

Emily is shattered, she has survived the demolition of life as she knows it but she’s not the same. She’s broken and it seems that she doesn’t think there is a way back.

heart shaped bruise

The notebook opens with a letter to Juliet that she was instructed to write by Dr Gilyard. It serves as a great opener, and a taste of the intrigue to come – actually it’s the basis of a lot of the intrigue to come.

All of the talk of Emily being evil leads you to expect a very different Emily than the one we meet. I don’t see evil in the broken young girl that we meet and spend the book getting to know. Through everything that is said there is also a lot left unsaid and it is what is left unsaid that compels you to turn pages one after the other long after you should be doing something else.

A lot of my need to keep reading was born of the desire to get to the bit where we find out what it is that she does to land her in this institution.

Heart-Shaped Bruise is a tale of revenge, betrayal, deception, identity, public persona and how it all combines to make us who we are – or does it?

If the whole world hears the story and makes conclusions about who you are does that make it true? Does all of that belief make it correct?

One small piece at a time we are allowed deeper into Emily’s head. She lets us in, I was going to say as she lets Dr Gilyard in but that isn’t really the case. We hear the things that are going through her head as she sits silently through her sessions with the Dr, or as she thinks through how much to say.

Emily is scared to hope and she’s scared to let anyone in because that’s never really gone well for her in the past. If she unlocks the padlocks protecting the most important parts of her story then maybe they will lose their potency, maybe she will discover that she doesn’t deserve them.

This 17 yr old girl is fundamentally scarred because of one single incident that not only changed the course of her future but totally destroyed her past as well. If nothing in her life is what it seemed does that also mean she isn’t who she thought she was? It certainly means she changed into someone she probably never would have been under different circumstances.

Emily’s writing is kind of disjointed but still flows in a way that makes perfect sense. We watch as she begins to look deeper into herself and examine how she ended up where she is. The story is much more involved than what you read in the papers. There are lots of references to ‘everything that I did’ and Emily projects herself as tough and uncaring but as the story unravels the mystery deepens and the picture of Emily changes quite dramatically.

Heart-Shaped Bruise is haunting and emotional but it is also nothing like what I expected. I love the way it was written, I love Emily’s voice and I love the way Tanya Byrne laid it all out on the page. It’s a book that has left quite an impression and I will be thinking about for quite some time.

50 of our members (sign up here) have been reading Heart Shaped Bruise, find out what they thought below…

53 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: Heart-Shaped Bruise

  1. Heart-Shaped Bruise is a complex and sad story set in a psychiatric unit of Archway, a Young Offenders Institution, where the main character, Emily Kroll an eighteen year old girl is its most feared inmate. She is awaiting trial for a horrible crime, although you never truly know what it is, it’s only implied.

    From the onset this never knowing intrigued me to continue reading, to put the pieces together and attempt to understand why Emily, such a dark, intensely angry, miserable and confused girl could become so cruel and unforgiving.

    The story is written as an emotional chronicle of Emily’s experience at Archway and slowly explains what she has done.

    Emily lived a life of fortune and indulgence with her devoted father until one evening she loses everything; her lifestyle, her father and herself. She discovers her father is a mobster and her life funded illegally. Shattered and unable to reconcile what has happened and who she now is, she aims to avenge Juliet the person who testified against her father sending him to prison and destroying everything.
    Emily felt vile and tarnished being the daughter of a brutal criminal and her actions justified as his daughter ‘Crazy Kroll’.
    Emily isn’t likeable; she deliberately tracked down and befriended Juliet which demonstrated how calculating she truly was. But it is this drama and complexity which makes the novel interesting as I couldn’t wait to read what this troubled character would do next.

    Emily attends mandatory sessions with the Archway physiatrist Doctor Gilyard, whom she continually shuts down and rejects. Her stubbornness and lack of engagement was frustrating at times, as I wanted Emily to acknowledge what she had done and take responsibility for who she was which we catch a glimpse of towards the end of the book. Although Juliet had also lost everything her life still moved forward, whilst Emily remained stuck in denial and blaming others. She may have believed she was invincible but she was really grief stricken, lost and broken. “My life is a song I listen to on repeat.” Emily could never grasp she could take charge of her life and create a positive future.

    Although I don’t condone what she had done, I can see how events in her life lead her to it.

    The book is pacey and well structured as a journal. A compelling read for any teenage girl.

  2. I’m an eighteen year old teenager who loves to read, the style of this book really suited me as a young reader. I understood Emily a lot. It worked. Especially for me. Which is why I enjoyed this book and managed to read it very fast in just over a day 🙂

    I really sympathized with Emily and enjoyed sort of understanding her feelings/thoughts throughout the book, it was quite interesting and I felt myself getting so involved. When her father was stabbed, I knew Emily wouldn’t be the same. Her life was full of crime. She was mentally unstable. The perfect recipe for a book.


  3. I have very differing opinions about Heart Shaped Bruise, there are sides of the story I love and really felt I got to know and other parts that I was a little confused over. I didn’t find the writing overly charismatic, it was a little choppy.
    I really love Rose Glass, I much preferred the make believe person than the real one, Emily Koll. Rose had the ability and maturity to be a great friend and have high morals, she had a life and Rose even began to let her guard down a bit and enjoy her life for a moment, until the deep seated hate came seething back, in the shape of Emily. Rose was a charismatic character and I loved reading about her life and her relationships with Sid and Juliet. I think the 3 of them could of been amazing friends til the end.
    Emily I had no understanding or sympathy for. At the beginning I didn’t really know what she did, I only knew what Juliet had done and because Juliet was still alive, I didn’t think Emily had taken anyones life. It wasn’t Juliet’s fault that Emily’s Dad was a criminal and that should’ve been something Emily came to terms with, she had no reason to want revenge, her revenge stemmed from immaturity, selfishness and spitefulness. And in the end to take it out on Sid…..I had NO SYMPATHY whatsoever and I finished the book hoping she wouldn’t get out of jail. I mean Emily still had her Dad, he wasn’t dead, just in jail where he belonged anyway. So Emily’s crime was unforgivable.
    Rose I loved and Emily just annoyed the crap out of me, so much so that I felt like I’d love to have given her a good slap across the face and snap her out of her attitude.

  4. I did enjoy reading this book, however the writing style is not normally one I come across in the usual books I select. I found it a bit difficult to engage with some of the characters of the girls at the offenders institute (the descriptions were a bit thin), but the central character Emily was quite fascinating & Dr Gilyard the psychiatrist was a very frustrating person.

    I found it a little hard to get into it at first, just the way it is written as a notebook, but once I got my head around the style of the book I was intrigued & wanted to see what twists & turns would happen next…

    SPOILER ALERT: so now I’m going to tell you ALL about the ending….JUST KIDDING! You will just have to grab a copy of Heat Shaped Bruise & find out for yourself !

  5. I’m not normally a fan of narrative writing but I really enjoyed this book it’s interesting how we think we are normal or abnormal but really we are basically the same the book really got me inside the troubled teenagers mind learning to let go in life is the thing that will save you a fantastic book I give it 8/10

  6. Heart Shaped Bruise is a standout debut novel by Tanya Byrne.
    Emily Kroll was a fascinating central character whose story provoked a myriad of emotions in me and left me feeling high, low, frustrated, sad, intrigued, disappointed and hopeful.
    I really enjoyed the narrative style of the novel and the short chapters were just how I like books to be written. I read this novel in only a couple of days as I found it quite gripping. It was written in the style of a young adult novel, however like many books in this genre, they also suit an adult audience well.
    I will be keeping my eye out for Byrne’s next novel!
    I give this book 7.5/10

  7. I really enjoyed reading the book. I like the way it is written as a diary and Emily tells us things she isn’t willing to tell Dr Gilyard. We get to see inside her mind and she doesn’t apologise for anything she says……What you see is what you get.

    I actually laughed, felt embarassed and cried through the book and cringed occassionally.

    The book told us a lot about the leading characters, but I do have issues about the end. I wanted to find out what happened to them………Emily, Sid, Juliet?? There really was no ending…………I do get it if there is going to be a sequel, but otherwise I feel a bit flat after reading a great book and after finishing there is no closure.

  8. When I first picked this book up I found it was really easy to read and I could read through it quite quickly. I liked it at first but as I started to get further through it I got a little frustrated that it always mentioned this bad thing Emily did but we never knew what. It was written to a person who Emily assumed would have heard of her and read the stories, though of course we hadn’t. It made me lose interest a little but it kept me reading to find out. Some parts I found little boring and strange to get my head around some things Emily does but all in all it was a good read. I did like how the book was written as a notebook so we got bits of info from the present and that from the past. I guess that is why we never find out what happens to Emily, because she leaves the notebook behind.

    I didn’t like the character of Emily at all I guess because I couldn’t relate to her or understand her even by the end. Even after finding out everything I still don’t really understand nor do I get why she really did it all. She had no reason to do what she did to hurt Juliet really as Juliet was attacking in self defence, and didn’t even take her fathers life! To me Emily seemed immature and irrational. I liked her when she was being Rose and I kind of wished she could continue that way and they would all be happy ever after.

    I found the ending was a little strange, I suppose it is meant to keep you thinking but I found it left a little too much to the imagination. We don’t even know for sure if Sid died though I’m assuming yes. I think the book would have been better to end on that line on one of the last chapers that said “and then I stabbed him” if it was going to leave all that to the imagination. It made me sad that that happened as I really liked Sid and him with “nancy and rose” made for a great trio of friends!

    Overall I’m in two minds about this book. It was an easy read and nice format and the story got me thinking a little but like I said I didn’t love the main character or the ending. I think that is more of a personal preference then anything though. I thought the clippings in the back was a good idea but they didn’t really add to the story unfortunately! Not bad for a first book though, I’d still reccomend it to people that like a bit of mystery!

  9. Congratulations Tanya Byrne on your debut novel, Heart Shaped Bruise! I enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it my older students. A young girl whose life falls apart in one night. A night that eventually leads her on a course to her own destruction. Definitely a book about choices and their consequences. Thank you Beauty and Lace or the opportunity to read this novel.

  10. For A Debut Novel this book is wonderful.
    You are let into the thoughts of Emily via a Journal that she leaves in the hopes that at some point in the future someone, who turns out to be us…the reader, will find the book. Emily shares with us her deepest and darkest thoughts and explains to us why she did the things she did. We follow her “friendship” with Juliet, her therapist visits with Dr Gilyard, her mad crush on Sid.

    I found this book to be very easy to read.
    I took the book with me to hospital visits to read while waiting and found that the way the book is broken into many short chapters was great for this sort of reading where you might be a little stop start with the reading rather then sitting down for a 4 hour reading session.
    My 21 year old daughter read the blurb and has now taken the book to read so I guess that tells you that its great for all differant age groups.

    This is a book i would certianly suggest you put on your reading list.

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