Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Black Heart Blue - a review

Title: Black Heart Blue
Author: Louisa Reid
Year: May 2012

This is a story about longing.

Twin sisters Rebecca and Hephzibah yearn for an ordinary life: to go to school, wear makeup, have friends, have crushes on boys, watch telly –normal adolescent things most girls take for granted.

This is also a story about darkness. 

About the evil that can live in even the most pious of homes and how the shroud of religious virtue can hide violent and disturbing secrets.  About how apparent respectability means no questions are ever asked, no matter the circumstances.

Hephzi and Reb live a tortured existence.  Locked in the vicarage, they forced to be their Jekyll and Hyde father’s whipping toys for any misdemeanour he can find – real or imagined - while their ineffectual and cold mother watches on, trying to avoid her own beatings.  

It’s an austere and suffocating life, one the girls dream of escaping and it seems as if their wish might finally come true when at age 16 they are allowed to attend the local high school.  Beautiful, vibrant Hephzi is immediately accepted into the popular crowd and begins testing the boundaries of their new, albeit limited, freedom.  She quickly falls in love with the maverick Craig and sees with him a future far away from the repressive confines of the vicarage. 

Rebecca’s school life is vastly different: with her face grossly deformed by Treacher Collins Syndrome she is friendless and living in abject fear of the consequences of Hephzi’s actions, of which she is an unwilling accomplice.   

The story is told in alternating chapters, from “before” told by Hephzi about the girls’ life at school and in the vicarage and “after” by Rebecca, who narrates how her twin sister pays the ultimate price for her snatched moments of freedom and the betrayal of her father’s domineering control.  It is certainly not an easy read with its themes of physical and sexual abuse in the name of religious fervour, and it provoked the full gamut of emotions in me.  But there was always an overarching feeling of hope and that goodness would prevail – pretty impressive given the bleak circumstances of the story and that it is author Louisa Reid’s debut novel.   

Thanks to Penguin for a review copy via Booksellers NZ.

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