Book Reviews


The Good

“Savell’s touching debut is a tribute to all those who have suffered abuse and survived. Her book contains strong characters, and although readers may not find the heroine Michelle to be very likable, it’s all part of the tale and becomes evident as the plot thickens. This story is an inspiration for survivors, and a real eye-opener for those who are blind to the consequences of bullying and mistreatment of all sorts. The author handles harsh subjects such as rape with taste, showcasing her talent as a writer. A terrific YA for teenagers and adults alike.” ~Jaime A. Geraldi, RT Book Reviews

“As Michelle mellows, it becomes increasingly clear that her life actually is tragic, and her sulky teen misanthropy is a reasonable reaction to a rotten life—a refreshing take. Savell offers readers hope within grim realism. . . .” ~Kirkus Reviews

“Part of a new line of teen-written novels, Paper Hearts is penned by an eighteen-year-old author who writes teen angst with authenticity and power. The novel is an impressive achievement for a debut writer.” ~The Story Sanctuary

“I’m finding it very hard to start this review. Not because I don’t know what to say, but because I have so much to say I don’t know where to start. Michelle hasn’t exactly had an easy time growing up. Her father was an alcoholic, parents divorced, and her family had been toeing the line of poverty until her grandparents died and left them some money and their house. She is bullied at school, where she does not have any friends and pushes those away who try to help.

I found it hard to connect with Michelle at first. She is hard around the edges and extremely cynical. However, it’s all very believable and as the story progresses, she grows on you. As I learn more about her and her past, I understand the walls she’s built against the world and why she is one of the hardest characters I’ve ever come across. I’m not going to lie and say I completely warmed to her because some her actions – like her attitude with her mother – made me raise an eyebrow, but she becomes more tolerable.

Michelle is inexplicably, in her eyes, drawn to Nathaniel. He is a genuinely kind person who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. Much like Michelle, he has had a tough go of it, but grew into a completely different person. He is, and I mean this with every fiber of my being, a giant teddy bear – and being well over six feet, I do mean giant. It is the relationship with Nathaniel that begins to bring down some of the walls that Michelle has built. I do like that Nathaniel doesn’t completely change Michelle. Although she becomes less of a hard person, she doesn’t lose the essence of who she is. It’s not a 180, but more like a 90.

Nathaniel’s grandmother is definitely one of my favorite characters from the novel. She is the first person Michelle finds that she can freely talk to and makes an effort to constantly visit her, even without Nathaniel.

I absolutely love how S.R. approached the point in the story where “the unforgivable happens.” I cannot say anything without giving you a HUGE spoiler, but I have yet to come across this approach and I found it to be fascinating. Albeit slightly confusing at first, but also powerful.

There is no “magical solution” to the problems our characters encounter and the story ends realistically, not with sunshine and puppy dogs (Wolfie excluded). While there are some inconsistencies, small but noticeable if you’re paying attention, Paper Hearts is a debut novel that will run your emotions through the gauntlet.” ~Andrea, Bookish

“The sweet beginning won me over and the end, though traumatic, was handled with care and written perfectly.” ~Jess, The Cozy Reader

“Michelle Pearce doesn’t have time for people because she has learned, time and time again, they aren’t worth her time or effort. Until Nathaniel. Michelle meets Nathaniel at her job when he comes in looking for the owner. When Michelle finally lets Nathaniel in, they become the best of friends–more alike than either realize at first. When Michelle’s life crumbles around her, Nathaniel is there to try to show her there is some good in the world.

PAPER HEARTS is not a book for the faint of heart. Michelle is prickly, thorny, and in a lot of pain. Her father’s dead, her mother doesn’t care for her, she’s bullied at school, and her counselor is useless. Many readers may have a hard time initially connecting with Michelle, but there is something vulnerable underneath the hard shell which touched my heart. Nathaniel hasn’t had an easy life either, but still somehow manages to hold hope in his heart. I really liked Nathaniel’s grandmother who had a knack to her–I think she was able to see the beautiful person within Michelle. I loved Nathaniel–I loved his huge heart, his optimism, his loyalty, and his ability to get through to Michelle. When Michelle’s life is ripped apart, the depictions of her and Nathaniel’s reactions are real and visceral. One of the best aspects of PAPER HEARTS is that has a realistic ending which matches the flow of the entire story. PAPER HEARTS will touch you deeply.” ~Star, Bibliophilic Book Blog

“So, when I first started this book, I was very skeptical. I mean, just look at that plot summary – it just reeks of teen angst. And I hate teen angst, probably because I wasn’t very angsty as a teen and so, to me, novels with teen angst usually mean whiny drama queens with a “poor me” mentality. And at first, this book seemed to bring more of the same. In the beginning, Michelle is angry at the world to such a degree that she couldn’t recognize genuine kindness if it bit her right in the face. It’s a quality that I hate in protagonists and when I first saw signs of it in this book, I was very concerned.

Thankfully, this book is so much more than just another teen angst novel.

Because unlike many of those angsty teen drama queens who I despise so much, Michelle actually has real issues. You don’t learn about them til later on in the novel, and by that point, thanks to Nathaniel, she’s started to become more than just an angry, antagonistic brat. But when you find out what all she’s been through, you can’t be mad at her for any bratty, rude, or antagonistic behavior. If anyone deserves to act out, it’s Michelle. Yes, she does some pretty awful stuff that kind of encourages the way that people treat her, but this girl has really been through the wringer.

And as for Nathaniel – oh my goodness, what a sweetie. It’s impossible to not like Nathaniel. When Michelle is a total and complete bitch to him, he just takes it and treats her with kindness and love in return. And soon enough, Michelle begins to realize just how special he is and before long, they’re healing each other. It’s a healthy relationship that’s formed in the life of a girl who, on paper, would probably be very unlikely to have a healthy relationship because she’s got so many issues that no guy in his right mind would ever see something promising in her. Thankfully, Nathaniel does, and he fixes her as best as he knows how, simply by accepting her and treating her with love. And what’s even better – Nathaniel needs to lean on Michelle just as much as she needs him.

This book is filled with really awesomely crafted characters, from Michelle and Nathaniel to Nathaniel’s grandmother (what a gem!), from Michelle’s completely self-absorbed mother to her scumbag of a boss. It has a plot to match – the plot twist came completely out of nowhere. Like, I had to re-read the part where the twist is introduced because I was so completely blind-sided. It was almost (but not quite) Fight Club level. And while there were definitely some bad parts to the ending, I think that overall, it ended on a happy note, which is something that I always love. And now for the spoiler that I wish that I didn’t have to include because it’s such a HUGE spoiler, but I will because it is such a sensitive topic: the book does contain rape. It’s not super duper detailed but it does happen and it’s a pretty major focus of the ending. Before you get too worried, the good news is, Nathaniel (wonderful, perfect, Nathaniel.” ~karaelaine1991, Librarything

“Glad I gave this book a chance. It was a random that I chose because of the cover and the name sounded interesting. Didn’t like Michelle to start with but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t meant to. By the end she had me, a great book with a couple of characters who are hard not to love.” ~Kylie, Goodreads


The Bad

“Michelle Pearce is a typical young adult novel character: angry, bullied, and grappling with a single mother too busy and preoccupied with her own life to pay any attention to her daughter except for nagging and a complete lack of trust in her. Michelle deals poorly with the bullies and counselor at school, her rage often getting the best of her and making matters worse. Enter Nathaniel—practically a giant, yet the gentlest, kindest, and most supportive person who has ever been in her life. Paper Hearts is the story of Nathaniel and Michelle’s intertwined, gritty, and uncomfortable lives. The stilted writing detracts from what would be an otherwise popular realistic “problem” novel. Too much remains unexplained about why Michelle is so angry and withdrawn—more than typical teenage angst. Multiple minor characters are introduced only to disappear again, leaving the reader guessing who is important and who is not. The writing is likely to keep most readers from getting past the first few chapters. The dialogue is confusing, often making it unclear who is speaking, and to whom. The story is compelling and believable enough, but the vague setting, flat characters, and predictable love story will keep this first novel from gaining popularity.” ~Rochelle Gafinkel, Voya Reviews

“I have to start with a disclaimer before I start ragging on this book – The copy I read was an uncorrected proof… Sooo hopefully it is going to be much better before the actual book is for sale.

I really wanted to like this book (and I did… like it) but it was so hard to read with so many errors. There were whole parts of the book that were repeated (I think they were meant to be taken out but weren’t yet) and the timeline was screwed up due to leaving the double parts in. This just made it so hard to enjoy.

If I had to rate the book based on the story alone – I would say it has real potential! As does the author. The character development was pretty good although Michelle was a very unlikable person, she was rude, mouthy, obnoxious, and just plain mean! I would almost go as far as saying I hated her. On the other hand, I really liked Nathaniel, what a sweetheart he was (he was kind of like an open book) and clearly did not deserved Michelle or everything that had happened to him. And I also really loved his grandmother! She had such insight.

Part of the story is about Michelle being bullied at school, but she was a bully herself! So I hate to say it but she kinda had it coming! The rest (which I will not give away) she did not have coming and was very sad.

I am almost sorry that it was the ARC I read and not the finished book because I think I would have liked it better. So I wish good luck to the author, I do think she will make it! I would read her again.” ~itsJUSTme, Librarything


The Fugly

“I struggled from page one to understand, and like, the caustic narrator. Got a jolt in Chapter 13.However, the author has a serious command of language and the narrator gets a puppy in the end.”~Kim Piddington, Goodreads

“I was so excited when I first received my Advance Readers Copy of Paper Hearts by S.R. Savell (thank you Medallion Press and LibraryThing.) My excitement quickly dissipated by the time I hit the third paragraph of the opening chapter. In an attempt to be descriptive, the author bogged the imagery down with extraneous phrases that made it outright painful for me to decipher any meaningful content.

I would not have minded such writing as much, in fact, I would have gladly looked passed it and the overused clichés, had I fallen in love with the characters. Unfortunately, Michelle is so mean, self-centered, and dramatic, that it took me reading only a few pages to realize that I didn’t not just dislike her, I actually hated her. I could make no connection with or make sense of her evil thought process. I could only feel bad for the other character, Nathaniel, who in contrast seemed oddly misplaced. He was nice, thoughtful, and in no way should have been permitted to exist in the same book as Michelle.

Not without difficulty, I finished the book. I tried earnestly to find something positive to make note about in this review. The unrealistic revelations and poor attempts to gain the readers empathy for Michelle later in the book only made it more laborious for me to finish. Cursing and unwitty sarcasm was often used as dialogue. I honestly have never had such a negative reaction to a book before. I will not be recommending this particular novel to anyone. “~Irussman, Librarything

“One of the commonplaces in writing and editing fiction is that the reader must always be on the narrator’s side. Whether the narrator is a good person or a bad person, likeable or despicable, he or she must always be appealing for the reader. PAPER HEARTS breaks this rule sullenly.

The plot of this novel is simple: despite a difficult start, Michelle pursues a friendship, and then a romantic relationship, with Nathaniel. The relationship becomes very serious very quickly, and readers follow Michelle as she discovers the kind of person she means to be.

Michelle is an abrasive narrator, and I found the first few chapters in her voice strongly repellant. Eventually the story revealed an interest beyond the narrator herself and started to advance. Again, there were problems. The transformation of Michelle’s attitude toward Nathaniel was too sudden to be plausible, and the time scale of the book didn’t make sense. During the final crisis readers learn more of the reasons for Michelle’s seething rage and bitterness, but these reasons arrive too late to be believable or relevant.

The pacing of this novel is also poor. Sometimes the narrator describes scenes in excruciating detail; other times — in one case, quite self-consciously — she skips over important events in a few words. Similarly, there are numerous unresolved plot points at the novel’s conclusion. Some of them are swept away in a few lines; others are simply lost. One of the most awkwardly handled aspects of the story is the book chase Michelle is sent on by Nathaniel’s mother. Readers aren’t even told the titles of the books, and the resolution of this plot is just silly. I felt the writer violated my trust in the narrative with this decision — but by that point, I had been so thoroughly let down by the rest of the book that the writer’s choice was no real surprise.

The recent trend in self-publishing has encouraged many writers to distribute raw, unedited work; they seem to believe that editors and publishers are censors, keeping writers from their potential readers. That’s simply not true: book editors help writers find their readers, often by saying no to writers until their style has matured. Arguably, a lack of maturity is the trouble with this book. There may be a good, and even a likeable, book buried in this text, but the reader must work to find it; and some readers simply won’t make the effort — nor should they have to. The writer should have the discipline to tell a story so that it engages readers, rather than repels them.

I have worked in publishing for almost twenty years and have never seen an “uncorrected proof” as weak as the ARC that was sent to me. I assume by “uncorrected proof” the publisher meant unedited manuscript. I hope this was a one-time error on the publisher’s part. Releasing an ARC in this condition did this first-time author no favours.

I do not recommend PAPER HEARTS. Readers looking for hyper-real issues novels can find much stronger books, and there are many other sharp, fresh voices out there who will provide a more satisfying reading experience.”~laVermeer, Librarything



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