Be it sweet and steamy, escapist fantasy or convoluted plot lines with a few extra shocking twists, romance novels come in many different forms and, with over 20 books published, Colleen Hoover has written many of them. In Heart Bones, Hoover documents the slow building of the tentative relationship between two young adults from completely different backgrounds, and it quickly proves to be the kind of moving, compelling story that serves as a firm reminder that love stories don’t always have to be action-packed and dripping with drama in order to pack an emotional punch.
After a childhood filled with poverty and neglect, Beyah Grim has just two months to wait before she can escape her home town and change her life for the better, having earned a full-ride scholarship to college. When an unexpected death leaves her homeless, Beyah is forced to contact the father she barely knows and spend the rest of her summer in Texas with him and his new family. Determined to just get through the summer as quickly as possible, Beyah has no time for the wealthy, broody guy next door. Yet, she can’t deny that there’s something about Samson that intrigues her and the connection between them is too intense to ignore.
Aware that both their lives will be taking them in different directions at the end of the summer, Beyah and Samson agree to keep things casual, committing only to a summer fling. But as the summer unfolds and brings old histories and new feelings increasingly to the surface, it’s not long before Beyah and Samson both find they’re in too deep and unaware that a rip tide is about to drag both of their hearts out to sea.
I get the feeling he hasn’t told a lot of people that. A secret for a secret. Maybe that’s how Samson’s layers are peeled back – by peeling my own layers back first.”
The idea of formative romances and embracing the ‘final summer of freedom’ before college are nothing new in new adult and young adult fiction, and Heart Bones wastes no time in following a similar path. Throughout the course of the novel, Beyah’s storyline offers a lot familiar beats; her temporary move to Texas brings with it the opportunity to begin to put her troubled past behind her, meet new people and build a relationship with her father, his wife and Sara, her new stepsister. As a story that straddles the line between YA and New Adult, Heart Bones also explores some heavier themes along the way too, as Beyah opens up about her childhood of poverty and neglect, her mother’s addiction and some of the heartbreakingly difficult decisions she had to make along the way.
Plot beats aside, however, Heart Bones is very much a book that’s more focused on character and it’s hard not to warm up to Beyah in this novel. While it’s certainly true that you’ll question some of her decisions, Beyah is a kind-hearted and fiercely loyal character who’s incredibly sympathetic, particularly of those who have fallen through the cracks of life. Even when Samson’s intense secrecy and evasions threaten to drive readers to distraction, Beyah’s complete understanding of Samson’s character and motivations eases the potential frustration. It makes the connection between Beyah and Samson even more beautiful to witness as Beyah is able to recognise a kindred spirit in what Samson doesn’t say as much as what he does.
This is a good thing, too, as this story is a slow burning one that is bought and sold entirely on the connection between Samson and Beyah above any and all other narrative elements. Their relationship is emotionally charged from the get-go, and the more time they spend together just deepens that connection further and further until readers are as invested in this not-so-casual fling as Samson and Beyah themselves. It’s a relationship that’s built up so naturally and honestly that it makes the novel’s turning point a heartbreaking one, and turns the story from something sweet and familiar into something that’s raw, heartfelt and memorable.
Heart Bones is ultimately a summer romance story, yes, but one that’s built on top of secrets, class prejudices and troubled characters just trying to do the best they can. It’s a little slow and a little repetitive but it captures the feeling of a long, lazy summer of opening up and falling in love perfectly, and has just enough emotional turbulence to keep you interested without feeling overblown and completely unrealistic.
This novel may feel a little quieter than some of Hoover’s more talked-about novels, but it’s also a surprising read with an interesting perspective, a sun-soaked atmosphere and a compelling romance storyline you want to see play out in full, making for a moving, heartfelt read that deserves just as much attention as CoHo’s other, louder books.
Heart Bones is published by Simon & Schuster on 31 January 2023