Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara Barnard
1st Feb 2019
Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara Barnard is the sequel to her debut YA novel, Beautiful Broken Things. Although it deals with the aftermath of the events in the first book, it’s not necessary to have read the first to enjoy Fierce Fragile Hearts (I hadn’t!), as the relevant incidents are explained when necessary.
The territory of the book, therefore, is one that’s not often explored in fiction: not the breakdown itself but the messy aftermath, the slow and painstaking work of healing and trying to fashion your life back into something worth living.
It’s an important reminder that recovery is not linear, and that there is no happily ever after, but that there is joy to be found in fumbling your way through life with those you love.
Love, in fact, is the thread that binds Fierce Fragile Hearts together, and Sara Barnard skillfully explores the different ways it can manifest in our lives – and the things we can mistake for love that are actually anything but.
There is the love we’re expected to feel for our families, which is not always easy or even possible; the love we feel for our friends, the difficulty of separating romantic love and sexual attraction, and the difficulty of accepting the love we can give and receive from our chosen family in a world which doesn’t always validate their existence.
There is no happily ever after, but that there's joy to be found in fumbling your way through life with those you loveIf this sounds like a heavy read, it can be at times – the plot deals with topics such as domestic violence, gaslighting, retraumatisation and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Suzanne, as our narrator, often falls into a deeply negative and paranoiac headspace which can sometimes feel almost suffocating to read.
She’s also occasionally frustrating narrator, with her traumatised and vulnerable outlook translating into thoughts and behaviours which sometimes made me want to reach into the pages and shake her shoulder, beg her to reconsider what she is about to do or say.
This, of course, is a testament to the compassion and realism with which Sara Barnard writes. Abuse and mental health issues often make people think and do things which are illogical and self-destructive by their very nature.
The other characters in the book are similarly human in their flawed behaviours, and the book is strongest when it deals with Suzanne’s relationships with the people around her.
Although a few of the minor characters sometimes veer into one-dimensionality, overall Suzanne’s friends and family feel just as contradictory, vibrant and real as Suzanne herself, and I was particularly pleased to see the inclusion of an LGBT character.
Overall then, Fierce Fragile Hearts, while sometimes a difficult read, is a book that shines a light on to often-hidden stories of recovery. It acknowledges the difficulty and exhaustion involved in re-learning self-care and allowing yourself to give and accept love when doing so has been betrayed in the past.
And most of all, it’s a testament to the fact that, while support from those who love us is vital, nobody can ‘fix’ us: recovery means being brave and learning to save ourselves.