Author: Lisa Unger
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Suspense
Rating: 4 out of 5
Kate has always loved Heart Island, but she dislikes visiting her hard, bitter mother, who lives there full time. Still, every summer she packs up her family to visit the idyllic island, and this year is no exception. Likewise, Emily has a faded, but fond, memory of Heart Island, and she clings onto it as her life unravels. Emily’s boyfriend, Dean, isn’t all that he seemed when they first started dating, and he’s about to drag Emily down with him.
Heartbroken is about three very different women – Kate, her mother Birdie, and Emily – who all have a connection to Heart Island. Birdie’s family has owned the island for generations. It’s her home, and she insists that her children come to see her every summer. This year, things are different. Birdie’s pettiness has driven away both her children, though Kate’s desire to please ensures that she’ll make the trip without her brother. Kate’s an appealing character. It’s hurtful to see Birdie’s passive aggressive treatment of her, but she’s strong and resilient. It’s also gratifying to see how much she wants to be a part of her mother’s life and understand Birdie, as many other daughters would have given up by this point.
As you can imagine, Birdie is a difficult character to like. Even once her secrets emerge and it becomes clearer why she’s such a hard, cold person, it’s difficult to really feel for her. That being said, Unger does an excellent job making her a layered, multifaceted character. Birdie wasn’t always like this; what made her this way? That’s one of the driving forces of the novel, something Kate must uncover on Heart Island.
Likewise, Emily isn’t the easiest character to like, but for very different reasons. At the beginning, the reader pities her; after all, she’s in a bad situation and she doesn’t know how to get out of it. But as things devolve from bad to worse, and Emily is caught in the middle, the reader has trouble sympathizing with her inaction. She becomes a complete doormat, unable to think for herself, and it’s frustrating.
Lisa Unger is known for her suspense novels, and Heartbroken doesn’t quite fit into that mold. It’s definitely a gripping novel, but it’s much more character driven than her other books. That’s not a bad thing, as Unger writes detailed, three-dimensional characters. She does a wonderful job making them realistically flawed; no matter how mad readers get at Emily, they can’t help but remember that’s exactly how people would probably act in that given situation.
In the end, Heartbroken is about understanding the pain of others, rather than focusing on your own hurts. Kate, Birdie, and Emily must each grow and change, and it’s a thrilling ride to watch them get there. It’s a suspenseful read with multiple twists and turns; fans of thrillers and character driven novels alike should consider picking this book up.
Other books by Lisa Unger: