Fierce Fragile Hearts, Sara Barnard

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my review in any way and the thoughts expressed are my own.

I didn’t read the first book but found I could still enjoy this novel regardless. After a traumatic childhood and teenage years, Suzanne finds herself out of the foster system and truly on her own for the first time. Having lived in another city for months at a hospital for people recovering from trauma, Suzanne decides to move back to Brighton, home of her two best friends but also memories of her greatest trauma. Despite this, she is desperate to spend time with her friends even if it is only for three months before they both go away to university. While she’s been away Caddy has gotten a boyfriend, Kel, and has become more outgoing. With Kel comes Matt, a sexy musician, who her friends warn her against yet that only makes him more intriguing.

Suzanne gets a small, rundown one-room apartment with no bed that only serves to make her more depressed. But if living there means she gets to see Caddy and Rosie then it’s worth it. This was a great taste of reality, renting when you’re first out of home can be more depressing than anything else. Luckily for Suzanne, her new downstairs neighbour, Dilys, is a kind-hearted old lady happy to have a chat while she lets Suzanne use her laundry machine. Dilis is a lovely character, so kind and generous with an intriguing life story, plus she has a dog, Clearance, a real little character. She was by far the character I loved the most.

Suzanne, a party girl, is more than keen to go to Kel’s party with Caddy and Rosie. She is intrigued to see who could have won over her shy friend’s heart. Kel is a fun guy, charming and clearly smitten with Caddy and she him, they’re continually standing wrapped in each other’s arms snuggling. They’re adorable, yet Suzanne is still surprised since Caddy was never known for talking to boys. It’s nice to see how when it’s the right person, even the shyest person can come out of their shell. When her memories and ingrained feelings from her trauma surface, Suzanne searches the party for someone to chase away the loneliness, but her friends call her, and she enjoys the night merely being with them.

Still, when alone in her bedsit, Suzanne can’t fight off the memories and paired with the despair of her surroundings, Suzanne is swallowed by depression. Though her friends are able to pull her out, Suzanne can’t shake the feeling deep within her mind. Suzanne finds ways to cope, her job at a café lets her use her charming nature without giving anything personal away and she enjoys the normalcy of it. Together with her regular talks to Dilys about music and her exciting life as a professional musician. She bonds with Dilys in a way people who haven’t experienced a similar relationship would struggle to understand. Dilys is like a grandmother figure to Suzanne, a great influence and a connection they both long for.

Despite her friends’ warnings, Suzanne is charmed by Matt. She knows what kind of boy he is, a charming fun one-night stand, but Matt longs to be more. He shares Suzanne’s resistance to ‘relationships’, and they come to a friends-with-benefits agreement. It’s nice being able to watch Suzanne enjoy connecting and having fun with someone, especially someone she appears to share a great deal in common with, plus Matt’s a fun character to read. Though as the story continues, we see Suzanne struggle with the effect her trauma has had on her relationships – she can’t understand or believe why someone like Matt would be interested in her. Even so, I couldn’t stop wishing they’d get together, they’d make a perfect couple!

I don’t like books on traumatic events, I find them too painful and disturbing to read. So naturally, I was hesitant when first reading this, though I was relieved to find out that the story that closely revolved around the trauma was done in the first book. This book is about the victim trying to get on with life and how the trauma affects her everyday life. Trauma doesn’t just go away after months or even a few years, it can last a whole lifetime and not getting swallowed by it can be incredibly hard. One small thing can set of horrific flashbacks and this novel is excellent at displaying how all this happens. It may have been months since Suzanne escaped her family, but when a young girl’s body is found and her step-father arrested for her murder, Suzanne can’t shake the sense that that could have been her. Caught in the darkness for over a week, Suzanne struggles to come out of the depression, but she does, truly showing how strong the human spirit can be.

Suzanne’s family is horrible. I may not have read the first book, but one novel with those jerks as side characters was more than enough. Her father was the abusive one, both psychically and mentally. Her mother wants everything to be perfect and refuses to see anything wrong with her husband, stating that Suzanne has always been melodramatic. I couldn’t decide who I hated more, the father or the mother who just stood there and let her daughter be beaten! It made me want to punch them both and whisk little Suzanne away. Her brother was never abused (we find out in the first book that this was because the mother had had an affair that resulted in Suzanne) and doesn’t understand why Suzanne can’t just move on and get along with their parents. It was extra painful for Suzanne that her brother couldn’t understand even after everything, and I found him frustrating for it.

I don’t usually enjoy contemporaries, especially stories revolving around trauma, but watching Suzanne try to make a life for herself was both captivating and inspiring. The characters were realistic and interesting, Dilys was by far was the best, and my heart broke thanks to her storyline. I give it 5/5, and I am so gratefully to have been given a chance to review this book thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia.

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