Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 11 May 2012

Heart-Shaped Bruise - Tanya Byrne

'There's more than one side to a story, and this is mine...I'll be me and you be the stranger on the bus.'

Eighteen-year-old Emily Koll has written her story in a notebook, which we are immediately told was found in one of the rooms when the psychiatric unit of Archway Young Offenders Institution was closed. The story Emily has to tell is bursting out of her, weighing heavily on her, and there is a real immediacy about the fact that she has to get it out of her, onto paper, as if to a stranger:

'I need to say this, to be rid of it. I can't keep carrying it around with me; I'm buckling under the weight of it. I look at myself sometimes, at the broken lines across the palms of my hands and the creases in my elbows, and I can see myself coming apart at the seams.'

This is such a compelling, powerful story right from the word go. The nature of the first few pages, with Emily's voice leaping from the page, letting us into her deepest thoughts, the darkest corners of her mind, makes for an arresting opening which grabs hold of the reader. The letter to Juliet had me intrigued, and creates suspense regarding the plot - who is Juliet, what has happened in their lives, why did Juliet stab Emily's father, what has Emily done? Why has she turned into 'this hard, angry, miserable girl who did the most terrible things.'? Emily has to cope with the way that the happy image of her father whom she held dear was ripped apart when she discovered there was a whole other, darker side to him that had been hidden from her; 'I hate that now I look at every memory of my father from a slightly different angle so that even my fondest memories are dirty and dog eared', and with no mother in her life, she feels she has lost everything. 

Emily tells us about the public perception of her, what you might read about her on Google or in the press, what other girls have said about her. And then she tells us her side of the story, and we can see the full picture from her viewpoint. But how reliable is she as a narrator, when she feels she is not herself anymore, when she herself tells one of the other girls in the institution, 'Don't believe everything you read', and then, tellingly, she voices the warning to us, the readers of her notebook, 'You shouldn't either, by the way.' In the notebook, Emily recounts her version of events, often mentioning what occurred when she visited Doctor Gilyard, the therapist she sees weekly in the institution. These encounters reveal a lot about her personality. We gradually learn about how Emily disguised herself and insinuated her way into Juliet's life, and how things developed towards the chilling conclusion, when we finally learn the infamous crime, the act of revenge that has left Emily locked away, awaiting trial. 

Immediately that I started reading, I wanted to know more, and I was compelled to read on by Emily's insistence that she is not sorry, hungrily wanting more details of the plot to be revealed. This is a fairly quick read - read it in one or two sittings if you can, and feel the full force of all the emotions. The writing is, for me, very realistic in terms of the author having successfully captured the age and style of voice for Emily; I believed her, and the emotional torment she is experiencing comes across vividly, the pain she feels, her bitterness and jealously, is raw, and the defensiveness and cynicism in how she communicates is belied by the more fearful, damaged person underneath. As she writes down her story, we are party to her thought processes, and can see that as she is thinking about things, wondering how it might have been if things had been different, for example if she and Juliet had become friends without any of the other things that have happened, and eventually she comes to a realisation about her own part in her situation. 

The author has cleverly integrated the imagery of the heart, and bruises of the title, and of this idea of 'blackness' and evil, at points throughout the story. Emily questions if her heart looks 'thin and burnt and black.' It's interesting to contemplate the question of whether Emily is seeking forgiveness, knowingly or not, by writing her story, in fact there is an awful lot here that could be discussed if the book were used by reading groups.

A compelling, tense young adult debut novel, which this older adult thought was a good read too.

Published by Headline on 10th May 2012 in hardcover and ebook editions.

You can follow the author on twitter @tanyabyrne

Thanks to the publisher for kindly sending a proof copy of this novel to read and review.



  1. This sounds really intriguing, you've made me want to find out what happened! Will have to look out for this one, thanks for sharing :)

    1. Thanks for commenting Kate. It is a compulsive read that keeps you wondering until near the end as to what happened.

  2. I keep on hovering over this one and your review is really tempting me even more - the pile of review books in the corner are giving me evils now! ;-)

    1. Thanks Treez. I can't control the pile of review books anymore. Would be interested in your take on this one.


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