I'm still obsessing over YA fiction at the moment, and Our Chemical Hearts is truly a beauty of the genre. I've heard so much about this and honestly it shows mental health in a truer perspective than I've seen it shown in a long time. Usually when I read a book about someone who's struggling with their mental health I get a niggling 'this isn't what it's really like' feeling welling up inside me, until I'm not comfortable with the contents of the book at all. But Our Chemical Hearts brought this idyllism that people create around mental illness up, analysed it and made me fall in love.
Henry Page is an average teenage boy. He's not lost 'the big V' yet, and his last kiss ended up helping his best friend discover that she's just not into men. Not a brilliant track record for keeping on the cool side of the tracks at school. He has cast aside attempts at romance for the time being, instead focusing on becoming the editor of his school newspaper, which he's been working on for the past two years.
Henry's life is all going to plan, until Grace Town transfers from her old school to his. Her literary reputation at the previous school means that the head of the newspaper wants to make them co-editors for the year. She refuses. Henry reluctantly chases after her, requesting that she works on the paper with him. Despite her boyish clothes, limp and cane, there's something about Grace that lures him in.
Before he knows it, Henry's in love with Grace. But she has good days and bad. On the bad days, they barely speak a word to one another (Grace's choice, not his). On the good days, she might just brush up against Henry whilst they chuckle over a joke, making him blush.
However, Henry's bothered by the fact that he knows nothing about her past. So, he checks out her Facebook page. At first he thinks he's got the wrong Grace Town. The girl in this profile picture is stunning. She has long hair, the biggest grin and is absolutely beautiful decked out in makeup and girl's clothing. Henry falls more and more in love with her.
Grace knows what's going on with Henry, but she's all too aware of why it can't be. You see, Grace was in an accident with her boyfriend, the love of her life. That's where she got the limp, and where she lost Dom. She's living in his room, and the boys' clothes she wears are his. She's not, nor will she ever completely get over losing Dom. He was her soulmate, and they'd been close since they were five.
Grace knows what Henry doesn't want to admit, even to himself: he's not in love with Grace Town, he's in love with an idyllic version of her. He craves the 'good Grace' days, and can't handle her on the bad ones. He wants to fix her; he doesn't really want to be with the Grace in front of him.
The rest of the story is about a struggle for love that's based on an illusion. This is exactly what I meant when I said that the book doesn't shy away from the realities of mental illness. I was completely 100% suckered into Henry's love for Grace, and how noble it was, until Grace pointed out that it wasn't. Then I saw what was happening: he was in love with the girl without the mental illness. I realised that I'd overlooked the depression coming out of her grief, and I was waiting for Grace to miraculously get better, and become the girl that Henry was lusting after. But mental illness doesn't work like that. Loving someone can't cure them.
If you're interested in YA fiction about mental health and love, then I'd really recommend this!