Book Review

Our Crooked Hearts

Our Crooked Hearts

  • Author: Melissa Albert
  • Genre: YA Horror
  • Publication Date: June 28, 2022 
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: drunk driving, blood, alcoholism, death of an animal, mention of death of a parent, grief, animal sacrifice, violence

Secrets. Lies. Bad choices. Dangerous magic. . . . This is Our Crooked Hearts, a contemporary fantasy “so precise and enthralling that the only explanation is that Albert herself is a witch” (Booklist, starred review)

On the way home from a party, seventeen-year-old Ivy and her soon-to-be ex nearly run over a nude young woman standing in the middle of a tree-lined road. It’s only the first in a string of increasingly eerie events and offerings: a dead rabbit in the driveway, a bizarre concoction buried by her mother in the backyard, a box of childhood keepsakes hidden in her parents’ closet safe. Most unsettling of all, corroded recollections of Ivy and her enigmatic mother’s past resurface, with the help of the boy next door.

What if there’s more to Ivy’s mother than meets the eye? And what if the supernatural forces she messed with during her own teen years have come back to haunt them both? Ivy must grapple with these questions and more if she’s going to escape the darkness closing in.

Straddling Ivy’s contemporary suburban town and her mother’s magic-drenched 1990s Chicago, this bewitching and propulsive story rockets towards a conclusion guaranteed to keep readers up all night.

I’ve had Melissa Albert books on my TBR for literally years, and didn’t get around to reading one until now. And now I’m kicking myself for waiting this long, because damn, this was an experience. To be honest, I was expecting this book to be fantasy, but to me, it just felt like it was way over into the horror genre, but with some elements of fantasy, instead of the other way around.

This story is told in two different timelines: we get Ivy’s experiences in the present day, and we also get to see her mother’s experiences when she was around Ivy’s age, which sets the stage for the present day experiences. I liked seeing both sides of the story, since it explained so much and answered a lot of questions that came up, even as more questions arose in the present day.

I found myself liking Ivy right away. She seems like a pretty level-headed teenager, overall. But things keep happening that would test the limits of anyone’s mind, and make them feel like the world is going to pieces around them. And she doesn’t really have anyone to turn to for answers. She’s got a strained relationship with her mother, her older brother doesn’t really seem very interested in anything going on, and she’s grounded as a result of events early in the story, so she can’t rely on her friends. 

I liked Dana, Ivy’s mom in the past scenes as well. She’s a kid who has too much responsibility on her shoulders and only one friend to turn to, her best friend Fee, who is more like a sister to her. Her father is sick and drunk most of the time, and when she discovers magic, Dana and Fee find it intriguing at first to work small magic. But things quickly devolve into a situation reminiscent of The Craft, and I knew it wasn’t going to be good.

But when Ivy starts to question things more deeply, she realizes that her life is like an onion, and she starts to peel back the layers. What she discovers is more questions that she doesn’t have the answers to, and a lot of clues that she can’t quite put together to find a solution. But she knows that she has to do something.

“And the itchy sense I’d had for years, that the times my mother most felt like a mom was when she was furious on our behalf. Like a bad boyfriend. Like a little girl who didn’t want anyone else playing with her dolls.”

I loved how this story came together, and kept me on the edge of my seat. The whole time I was reading, right from the beginning, I had a sense that something dark and dangerous was waiting just beyond the next page. And I couldn’t wait to get to it, to find out exactly what it was. I wanted to get the answers to all of Ivy’s questions, and to figure out who her mother really was, and what had happened between Ivy and Dana to strain their relationship. Everything tied up beautifully at the end, but I think what I liked best was the way that it didn’t end with a happily ever after, but had a more realistic ending where people had to work things out slowly, and cope with the fallout of the revelations that were unearthed. This book was fabulous, and it won’t be long before I’m reading more books by Albert.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 13

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