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Book Review: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert

Book Review: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert

The past and present collide in this tale of magic, memories and the complicated relationship between a mother and her daughter. Told through dual timelines, Our Crooked Hearts flips between now, as a teenager hidden from the occult unravels the secrets of her mother’s mysterious life, and 1990’s Chicago, where another teenage girl’s discovery of witchcraft leaves her with lasting scars that will force her to make unforgivable decisions later down the line.

Ivy and Dana are the complex daughter and mother at the centre of this paranormal story. They share a fraught relationship, though Ivy doesn’t know the specific reason why Dana is so cagey and distant. After her summer kicks off with a series of strange and disturbing events, including unnatural offerings on her doorstep and a wraithlike intruder in her home, Ivy finds herself haunted by fragmented memories from her childhood. At least she thinks they’re memories. Ivy is missing vital pieces of a puzzle relating to the past, and in order to find them, she needs to face a dark family secret that was buried for a reason.

Everything – Ivy’s fractured memories, the eerie happenings, the strained family dynamic – leads back to Dana and the long-ago summer she turned sixteen. It was the summer she and her best friend Fee met an ambitious older girl who introduced them to witchcraft. A summer that started with bright supernatural discoveries and ended with a darkness that’s clung to Dana ever since. But the shadows of the past don’t want to be forgotten and something – or someone – is hell-bent on making Dana pay for what happened all those years ago.

There was a quiet place at the center of me. A pool of black water frozen to a sheen. It was made up of the questions it was easier not to ask, the mysteries I didn’t bother prodding. I’d been letting it thicken as far back as I could recall. Something was moving beneath the ice now. Shifting, making the surface creak, turning it rotten.”

Melissa Albert is best known for her fantastical The Hazel Wood series and that same twisted atmosphere carries over into Our Crooked Hearts. This is a story of secrets – both those kept close to the heart and buried deep in people’s psyches – and the destructive nature that withholding such secrets from those you love can have. Dana and Ivy feel worlds away from each other at the start of the book and it’s easy to place all the blame squarely on Dana’s shoulders. But bad decisions can be made with the best intentions, and whilst part of this story sees Ivy uncovering her mother’s secrets, the other part of it is about her learning how not to repeat them – and how to forgive them too.

With Our Crooked Hearts, Albert wanted to pay homage to the books that saved her from too much reality, and in doing so, she’s penned a book that saves readers from the exact same thing. This might be an urban fantasy set in a familiar world, but it’s infused with a visceral blend of horror, mystery and thriller that’s so immersive that the real world away from the pages simply fades away whilst you’re reading. Woven with palpable paranormal and The Craft style witchery, it has wickedly bad magic, effortlessly good characterisation, and a touch of young romance between Ivy and her neighbour across the street, Billy, that’s so sweetly written it’ll make you yearn for more.

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And that’s the best gauge of a good novel. Whether it makes you want to keep reading after you’ve turned the final page – which this book definitely does. If you like your witchcraft stories packed with flawed characters, tense relationships and tangibly creepy vibes, Our Crooked Hearts ticks all the boxes.


Our Crooked Hearts was published by Penguin on 30 June 2022

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