Am I Normal Yet? was one of my favourite books of 2015 and I have been raving about Holly Bourne’s excellent depictions of mental health and feminism ever since. I was delighted to get an advance copy of How Hard Can Love Be?, the second book in the Spinster Club trilogy, to review.
Cover image from Goodreads
How Hard Can Love Be? tells the story of Amber as she travels to America to reunite with her estranged mother, and to work at a summer camp. Her mother, a recovering alcoholic, left years ago and set up a new life in America. Amber is hoping against hope that even though they haven’t been in touch spending the summer together will fix their relationship. She has been looking forward to lots of quality time with her mum, but the summer camp is so busy that they hardly see each other. She keeps in touch with Evie and Lottie, the other Spinster Club members, updating them on her new friendships and her crush on Kyle. But Kyle was literally a prom king, and Amber is so not his type. She is sarcastic and outspoken, yet she finds herself attracted to this All-American guy. Could he be interested in her too? And can she fix her relationship with her mum?
Each chapter begins with one of Amber’s illustrations (I am looking forward to seeing these, they weren’t in the proof copies) and a ‘situation that is destined to fail’ such as ‘My personality + A gang full of Americans.’ Bourne explores the different relationships in Amber’s life skilfully. The ‘love’ of the title isn’t just romantic love (although there is a very cute summer romance) but also that between family and friends. Amber’s relationship with her mother is a very troubled one and Bourne does not shy away from this. She explores the complexity and difficulty of rebuilding this relationship. The scenes between Amber and her mother are often painful, and the impact her mother’s neglect has had on her is evident as it colours other relationships in her life.
‘I didn’t do getting hurt very well…Why get myself involved in something that would break me?’
Fans of Am I Normal Yet? will enjoy the emails and Skype sessions with Evie and Lottie. Like Am I Normal Yet?, this book gives the reader a great introduction to different feminist ideas, and I liked the discussions of why while being a feminist can be tough, it is definitely worthwhile. I love that there are a whole range of feminist characters in the books and that discussions of feminism are just a part of their friendship. I never felt that Bourne was being preachy and I think these books will be great for introducing teen readers to different feminist theories in an accessible way. Bourne also really nails her characters’ voices, and there are moments in How Hard Can Love Be? that are laugh-out-loud funny. The characters have depth and a range of interests – Amber draws, Evie is a movie buff. I enjoyed getting more of an insight into Amber in this book, her voice was very strong and Bourne really explored her vulnerabilities. There were some wonderful new characters introduced in this book, my favourite being Whinnie who introduces Amber to the philosophy of Winnie the Pooh, and is generally a great friend. Kyle initially seems like a typical gorgeous All-American dreamboat, but he is worried about not breaking out of this mould, about always being predictable. Also, all the Harry Potter references were great!
Like any great summer story, How Hard Can Love Be? is about making a journey. Amber grows during her summer and the reader can take many strong messages from the book. This was one I particularly liked:
‘Failure is never getting hurt. Because that means you’ve not done anything you cared about.’
I can’t wait for Lottie’s book, the third in the Spinster Club trilogy, especially seeing as Lottie is the one who reads feminist theory and introduces Evie and Amber to many new ideas. Also, these characters are just so real and relatable that I can’t wait to read more about them!
Holly Bourne will be doing an event in Dublin this Thursday. I am most excited! Details on the poster below 🙂