Book Review: Fierce Fragile Hearts

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Author: Sara Barnard
ISBN: 978 1 5098 5288 8
RRP: $16.99
Publication Date: 12 February 2019
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher

I put “Fierce Fragile Hearts” towards the bottom of one of my reading piles because it is a sequel to a book I hadn’t read. I now wish I’d put it at the top, as I’d have known all the sooner that I wanted to rush out and find and read the first novel. This is beautiful and funny and sad and realistic and encouraging. It stands on its’ own, but I imagine that most readers will promptly want to find the first part of Suzanne’s story.

Suzanne is 18, and about to leave the foster care system for independence. She’s moving back to Brighton, where she lived briefly with her aunt – the only place she can remember feeling that she belonged. Most importantly, she’ll get to see her friends Caddy and Rosie again. She’s missed them badly, even as she distanced herself from them, and wants to re-establish their friendship.

Suzanne is badly damaged by the abuse she suffered at the hands of her step father, and indirectly at the hands of the mother who didn’t protect her. Her aunt was and is a positive figure in her life, but Suzanne’s problems made it impossible for them to live together when she was younger. Her friends are great, but take their parents’ support so much for granted that it’s hard for them to understand some of the things Suzanne struggles with.

For me, it was interesting to get a glimpse into the transition process for young people leaving care in the UK, because I was involved in setting up a similar scheme in Australia. Even without that personal connection, however, this novel vividly demonstrates some of the challenges young people with limited support face when they become adults and are expected to abruptly become entirely responsible for themselves on a certain day.

Barnard unashamedly depicts Suzanne’s behaviour, which often makes it very difficult for the people who care about her to be around her. She asks the reader to think about Suzanne’s responsibility in improving her life and relationships, even while acknowledging the causes that aren’t Suzanne’s fault or in her control.

This is a brilliant depiction of friendship between young adults – the joys, the challenges, the prickly bits, the misunderstandings, the overthinking, and the strengths. Yes, some of Suzanne’s problems and behaviours are fairly extreme. And yes, her friends are more emotionally articulate than most young people in their late teens. Still, at the core, these relationships are going to be recognisable and empathetic to most readers. We understand fully their value and the work needed to maintain them.

Although the core subject is difficult and sad, this is a warm and encouraging novel about a young woman finding her strength, and the friendships that surround her. There are no easy solutions, but there is a deep vein of hope and belief running through the novel.

I strongly recommend “Fierce Fragile Hearts” – it’s just a wonderful, beautiful novel to read, and it made me laugh out loud a few times. Abuse survivors may need to approach it with caution – there may be triggers – but otherwise I recommend it unreservedly.

This guest review was submitted by Lorraine Cormack, one of our long-time Beauty and Lace Club members. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Lorraine.

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