- How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne
Rating: * * * * *
Series: #2 The Normal Series (coming after Am I Normal Yet?)
Publication Date: February 2016 (I didn’t read it until now because I knew that when I did I would be bursting for the next book! Luckily the next book comes out in a couple of months!)
Goodreads Synopsis: Amber, Evie and Lottie: three girls facing down tough issues with the combined powers of friendship, feminism and cheesy snacks. Both hilarious and heart-rending, this is Amber’s story of how painful – and exhilarating – love can be, following on from Evie’s story in Am I Normal Yet?
All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber’s hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.
And then there’s prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie’s advice, there’s no escaping the fact: love is hard.
‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year, and indeed one of the best and most relatable books I’ve ever read. Holly Bourne understands perfectly the ups and downs, wishes and worries, of being a 21st century teenager. This makes her books very readable and means that it is very easy to identify with and sympathise with the main characters. ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ is heartfelt and honest, with some very funny scenes that put a huge smile on your face – like the scene where Amber has to try to row a kayak and Amber’s reaction to her mother’s boyfriend’s summer camp’s replacement of Slytherin with Dumbledore’s army (Although, as a Harry Potter fan, I could totally see where Amber was coming from – who would do that and think it was ok?!) – but also with some very moving and powerful scenes between Amber and her estranged mother, who started a new life in America and left her daughter behind.
One of my favourite aspects of this book and this series is the inclusion of feminism, with Amber and her two best friends Evie and Lottie’s Spinster Club meetings. In this novel, because Amber’s in the USA, their meetings take place in Skype and unfortunately Amber is left out of the all-important accompanying cheesy snacks! (I would recommend having some cheesy snacks next to you as you read this as you will get a craving for them!) I love Lottie’s enthusiasm when she talks through her ideas about feminism – she bursts to life in the novel with her bubbly, eager and energetic nature and her enthusiasm is infectious. The scenes in this series with the Spinster Club meetings always leave me feeling very inspired, not only to join a club like this, but to do things like the Bechdel test and to fight for equality. I think that a book has to be very powerful and skilfully written to leave you feeling inspired and empowered in this way.
I also really enjoy the fact that although when you read the title ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ you immediately think of romantic love, the book presents other types of love with equal focus. There’s the love that Amber has for her mother, which she finds very difficult because at times it does not seem like it’s reciprocated by her mother – when she arrives in the US, she sees that her mother keeps her picture not in her own bedroom, but in the spare room, and this makes Amber feel like a discarded spare part. The use of first person makes Amber’s feelings and disappointment very palpable and makes you empathise greatly with her. We discover more about Amber and her mother’s relationship as Amber recalls what used to happen before her mother left England and her mother’s struggles with alcoholism. The final scene between Amber and her mother is very moving, powerful and satisfying.
Additionally, there’s the love and bond between friends, not just between Amber, Evie and Lottie, but also the friends that Amber makes on camp. I think it’s really important that books put focus on friendships as well as romances, and Holly Bourne does this very successfully. My favourite of the friends Amber makes is Whinnie, who is a faithful and caring friend to Amber. She shares Amber’s good-humour and also has a very interesting life philosophy based on Winnie the Pooh. Their friendship seems very natural.
The romantic relationship in the novel is also very well done. Although on the surface Kyle and Amber may not seem to have much in common, underneath they do and they really connect to each other. It’s clear that Kyle really values Amber and appreciates and is entertained by her good-humour. I really like the fact that although they both like each other, that doesn’t mean that their relationship is totally smooth-sailing.
I love how the heading between sections changes for the last section into a positive; it’s a lovely touch and makes the novel ultimately very uplifting.
Overall, ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ is a fantastic addition to YA and if you haven’t read it, you definitely should! I think that if I had to choose one series to recommend to all other teenagers, it would be the Normal series, and that Holly Bourne is one of the most important YA writers out there, with her exploration of key issues like feminism, mental health and relationships. Her books are very relatable and blend humour and patches of light-heartedness with more serious and emotional sections perfectly.
‘What’s A Girl Gotta Do?’, Lottie’s story, comes out in August and I can’t wait!