Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down by Anne Valente Review

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November 13, 2016 by Betty

Title: Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down

Author: Anne Valente

Publication Date: October 4, 2016

Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary, Coming of Age

Rating: 2.5 Stars


The lives of four teenagers are capsized by a shocking school shooting and its aftermath in this powerful debut novel, a coming of age story with the haunting power of Station Eleven and the bittersweet poignancy of Everything I Never Told You.

As members of the yearbook committee, Nick, Zola, Matt, and Christina struggle to capture all the memorable moments of their junior year at Lewis and Clark High School amid documenting a horrific tragedy—a deadly school shooting by a classmate. But the shooting is only the first inexplicable trauma to rock their small suburban St. Louis town. A series of mysterious house fires have hit the families of the victims one by one, pushing the grieving town to the edge.

Matt, the son of the lead detective investigating the events, plunges into the case on his own, scouring the Internet to uncover what could cause a fire with no evident starting point. As their friend pulls farther away, Nick and Christina battle to save damaged relationships, while Zola fights to keep herself together.

A story of grief, community, and family, of the search for understanding and normalcy in the wake of devastating loss, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down explores profound questions about resiliency, memory, and recovery that brilliantly illuminate the deepest recesses of the human heart.


Where to begin with this? The plot itself was spectacular and engaging. When I read the summary I was really intrigued by how the book was play out. The main focus on the book is the way all these students and parents are coping with the aftermath of a school shooting. I was expecting it to be a highly emotional and moving read. Upon reading it though…it was just disappointing.

I found the writing to be droll, tedious, unengaging, and exhausting. I literally had to force myself to finish it. I kept putting it down and reading other books because I found it so dull and uneventful and ended up reading it over the course of a month. Despite the unique perspective of being able to see how everyone coped differently with their grief, it was monotonous that I found myself skimming over the pages for the last 100 pages or so.
I refused to give up on it seeing how it was a review copy, but if it had been a book I choose to read myself with no sort of obligations I would not have bothered finishing it.

There were a lot of different aspects that made this book insipid for me. One such thing that I noticed right off was the complete lack of quotation marks and separation of dialogue. Which is really confusing seeing how there is a lot of dialogue going on in the book.  The way the author wrote it is as though…I don’t even know how to explain it.Sort of a third person/omniscient point of view. Let me just cite an example. It will be easier to understand that way.

Who opened it? he said.

Matt’s mother didn’t answer. She set down her book.

I did it, Matt said. I picked the lock. I needed to know.

Come with me, his father said. He looked only at Matt, not his mother. Matt rose from the couch but his father was already gone, already hastening down the hallway to the office.

Another thing that I found repetitive and dry was the writing style itself. It is very clinical, almost unfeeling and more like an outpouring of facts and details.Something like a report or school essay and not a full length novel. The details are not interesting or descriptive. They are simply necessary adjectives that enable the reader to have a basic understanding of the situation or surroundings. That made reading the book so frustrating. It felt drawn out explaining all the small everyday things happening and all I wanted to do was hasten the book and find out why the fires were occurring and how the problem would be addressed. By the last fourth of the book, I was skimming sentences and paragraphs at a time to just know how the book would end.

Then there was the informative chapters. Every few chapters, there is a “chapter” (which was really just a page or two) containing everything from a brief history on a related topic, i.e. cremation, memory, fatal fires, fire investigation terms, human heart, etc. Each one of the chapters has a list and explanation on the workings, functions and intricacies of each topic. It also lists related terms and vocabulary, definitions and facts on the subject.

The ending also left me so unsatisfied. Nothing is really resolved. The book is realistic and written in a way that does not incorporate fantasy aspects. Even so, the big “reveal” to the cause of the fires was left as a mystery. Nothing is explained to the readers. It just slips ahead to years in the future and give a very dispassionate run down of how the lives of the characters continued on in very vague detail.

In summary, the book had a LOT of potential, it just did not develop fully. The extra brief history chapters would have worked if they had just been more riveting. Sadly, that was not the case and this book was just really disappointing to me.

Have you read any books you just had to force yourself to finish?


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