Review: Heartless by Leah Rhyne

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Publication: May 10th 2016
Publisher: Polis Books
Pages:  320 pages
Source: Bookmobile
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery, Horror, Retelling, Science Fiction
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤

“Expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed” (Rhyne 67).

Jo Hall is dead. Well, kind of. She can still think, walk, and talk like a person is supposed to. She can still crack jokes with her roommate Lucy and tweet like a fiend. But her heart doesn’t beat anymore, she doesn’t have to breathe, she’s starting to smell (like, really smell), and her body has kind of started decomposing before her eyes. Jo remembers being taken in the middle of a snowstorm and then waking up in a morgue, now a monster. Jo wants to find out who did this to her, and her best friend Lucy and maybe boyfriend Eli are ready to help, but who knows what dangers Jo’s search will uncover.

Heartless is a strange book for a number of reasons that the synopsis doesn’t even begin to describe. What starts out as a contemporary novel about a young university student wanting to find out who “killed” her quickly turns into a science fiction story about secret military projects and cyborg girls. It wasn’t a bad place to take the story, but it was unexpected, and the transition from contemporary to sci-fi was pretty jarring.

The synopsis for Heartless claims this book is a modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but I have a very hard time accepting that and would more so say that the book has many Frankensteinish aspects but is not a direct retelling of the story. For one thing, the book references Frankenstein’s Monster and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein many times, and every retelling of any story I’ve read has never referenced the original work it is based on (except Hag-Seed, but that book is a lot more complicated and I understand Atwood’s reasoning for calling it a retelling). Aside from Jo’s boyfriend’s name being Eli, which I’m guessing is a reference to Elizabeth Lavenza in Shelley’s work, none of the other characters share names from characters in the text (maybe Lucy? But maybe I’m just thinking of Dracula). What are your thoughts on this? Can a story be a retelling if it references the original work it’s retelling?

Another thing I wasn’t crazy about were the villains of the story. They just didn’t seem that threatening and were much more comical than terrifying. When Jo confronted her Creator in the morgue and through emails, he sounded like an old timey-villain who would be twirling his mustache and tying damsels to railroad tracks. I just wanted to laugh at him more than be afraid of him, which is unfortunate because he had the potential to be a terrifying villain considering the experiments he was doing.

But what I absolutely adored in the book was the friendship between Lucy and Jo. We need more positive female friendships in books, one’s like Lucy and Jo’s where the two girls work together to solve a problem, where they are by each other’s sides through thick and thin. It was so refreshing to read such a positive and realistic friendship between to strong female characters!

Jo’s maybe boyfriend Eli just wasn’t doing it for me, and I honestly think the book would have been so much better without him. Not only does he do the minimal amount of work to help Jo, but all he does is complain and yell and say horrible things to Jo and Lucy! If the book had just focused on Jo and Lucy trying to find out who did this to Jo I think the story would have been much stronger.

Rhyne is very good at humour and I laughed multiple times while reading because I loved the banter between characters, especially Jo and Lucy. And I really enjoyed when Jo’s parents came in near the end to help their daughter because so often in YA the teens try to fix everything themselves and it was nice and important to see that even when growing up and when you face scary and confusing situations, you can count on your parents to help you.

Heartless is a very interesting “retelling” of Frankenstein that takes you many places you won’t expect. If you like to be surprised while you read, and like books that will literally have you laughing out loud, this is the book for you!

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