Severed Heads, Broken Hearts.

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One of my new year’s resolutions at the beginning of this year was to read more; I’ve never been a big reader, because I read quite slowly, so unless a book really grips me straight away I tend to give up on it. I’m more of a visual person, I loved books until they stopped having pictures and so I then switched to magazines! Honestly though, unless a book really grips me, unless it gets into my head and into my imagination and makes that connection, then I’ll give up on it; but now that I’m an adult, I know I need to read if I want my own writing to improve, we learn by imitation they say. So, be prepared for more books featured on labella through 2016, and let’s see where this journey takes us.

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Severed Heads, Broken Hearts by Robyn Schneider was gifted to me for my birthday last year by my sister, she told me it was the best book she has read so far (she actually reads on a regular basis) and it meant so much to her, that she wanted to share it with me… that was in July. Over the months that followed she continuously asked me if I had read the book yet, and I swore I was planning to, while all the time it was sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

Last week, when I finished reading Big Magic (read more here), I picked up the next book I planned to read, opened it and closed it again. Instead I went back to my bookshelf and finally dusted of Severed Heads, Broken Hearts and started to read. Now, I refer back to earlier when I said that I read quite slowly, so the fact that I read this within 24 hours, is quite an achievement for me; from the minute I picked up this book I was hooked.

everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary- a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen.

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The story that takes place in Severed Heads, Broken Hearts is written from the point of view of Ezra, a teenager in high-school who is the victim of a tragic car accident the summer before his Senior Year. Ezra was at the height of his school popularity and athletic career, with a scholarship to college being a certain; but of course that all changes one night on the way home from a house party and the following September when Ezra returns to school he is a broken person both physically and mentally.

If everything really does get better, the way everyone claims, then happiness should be graphable. You draw up and X axis and a Y axis, where a positive slope represents a positive attitude, plot some points, and there you go. But that’s crap, because better isn’t quantifiable.

A little lost and coming to terms with who he is without his tennis racket, he finds himself landed in the middle of the debate club, a group of interesting people, far more interesting than he expected, consisting of his once best friend Toby and new girl Cassidy to name a few. As Ezra rekindles his childhood friendship with Toby, who suffered his own tragedy with a severed head in Disneyland when they were still in Middle-school,  he begins to find his way back to his true self, and not the false version of himself that being part of the popular crowd made him; but it is Cassidy, a girl with a craving for adventure and escaping the panopticon of suburbia, who really pushes him to figure out who he really wants to be in life.

To Cassidy, the panopticon wasn’t a metaphor. It was the greatest failing on everything she was, a prison she had built for herself out of an inability to appear anything less than perfect. And so she ghosted on, in relentless pursuit of escape, not from society, but from herself. She would always be confined by what everyone expected of her because she was too afraid and too unwilling to correct our imperfect imaginings.

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I expected Severed Heads, Broken Hearts to be a genre typical teen love story where a secret threatens to ruin a blossoming love, and the big question mark of college hangs in the balance; but this book is about far more than that, it is about the relationships we make and how they shape or misshape who we become. Ezra has lost his sense of identity at, what seems to him, the worst time ever, right at the end of high school; however, his characters struggle to find a new sense of identity makes us question how much of ourselves do we let other people define? For a long time Ezra let other people tell him who he should be, his parents, his couch, his friends, now he can’t be the person they expect him to be and he has no choice to be more true to himself than ever before.

The book really focuses on the power of friendship groups; they can be a refuge but they can also be a minefield. It isn’t hard to tell genuine friends from non-genuine, but it is hard to admit to yourself which of you friends is which, something that Ezra and Cassidy have to learn. It all comes down to trust, and Cassidy has some serious trust issues and some big secrets that she is very good at averting your attention away from.

We move through each other’s lives like ghosts, leaving behind haunting memories of people who never existed. The popular jock. The mysterious new girl. But we’re the ones who choose, in the end, how people see us. And I’d rather be misremembered.

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This is the kind of fiction I wish I had read when I was a teenager, instead of spending my time on vampire and werewolf fantasies (#teamEdward all the way). There are valuable lessons in the story; don’t take yourself too seriously, don’t be what you think other people want you to be, be loyal to the people who are there when it really matters, and that love is never straightforward.

She leaves a trail of broken hearts and either she doesn’t realise it or she doesn’t care.

I really enjoyed this book; I loved the tone of the writing and the fact that it is written from a male point of view when so much teen-fiction is written from a female point of view. I think Robyn Schneider really captures the genuine internal struggles of that last year of school, when all teenagers have to face the question of who and what they will be outside of the bubble of school, away from familiarity. I could really relate to the struggles of the individual characters; we all have our own metaphorical car crash to deal with the after math of at some point in life, that moment when you question what you have been doing up to that point and how you will function now, after this tragedy of realising you haven’t been true to yourself.

I wondered what things became when you no longer needed them, and I wondered what the future would hold once we’d gotten past our personal tragedies and proven them ultimately survivable.

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