Novel: 16 Ways to Break a Heart by Lauren Strasnick | Goodreads
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Unfolding through letters, texts, and chats, Lauren Strasnick’s smart, sexy, page-turning new novel is the ultimate he said/she said breakdown of a relationship gone wrong.
Natalie and Dan were electric from the moment they met. Witty banter and sizzling chemistry made falling in love easy—even inevitable. He was in awe of her subversive art and contagious zest for life; she was drawn to his good-guy charm and drive to succeed as a documentary filmmaker.
But that was before. Before hot tempers turned to blowout fights. Before a few little lies turned to broken trust. Before a hundred tiny slights broke them open and exposed the ugly truth of their relationship.
And now Natalie wants Dan to know just how much he broke her.
Over the course of one fateful day, Dan reads sixteen letters that Natalie has secretly, brilliantly hidden in places only he will find. And as he pieces together her version of their love story, he realizes that she has one final message for him. One that might just send his carefully constructed life tumbling down.
This is a book that’s all emotion and all character. It focuses on a toxic relationship gone wrong. When his ex starts sending letters to him — leading up to something awful, he’s sure — Dan is immediately suspicious. Her letters are dramatic and ominous, discussing memories from their relationship, lording them over his head. Dan doesn’t know what to think, but he’s too busy getting ready for his documentary debut to be able to pay much attention to Natalie being crazy. Big mistake.
Although comparing a book to 13 Reasons Why doesn’t seem (to me) to be a flattering comparison because I frankly don’t think Jay Asher’s writing is very good, it’s an easy line to draw with a book like this. Threatening, occasionally melodramatic letters — but to your ex.
The book starts out with a flamboyant letter from the oh-so-betrayed Natalie. Her letters bleed raw emotion; the level of adoration and pain that she funnels towards Dan is immense. It’s clear that she loved him, purely at first, in a way that slowly turned to hate, resentment, and an unwillingness to give up a history that, while problematic, keeps them drawn to each other like magnets.
That emotion is a tough one to nail, and one that Strasnick did an excellent job portraying. One of my biggest complaints about YA books is that there aren’t many shades of gray in terms of relationships that, even as a teenager, can be complex and full of gray. Friendship? Romance? Hatred?
Another admirable part of this book and the writing is its ability to switch between voices, to make each one distinct and compelling. Natalie and Dan’s stories are each true in different ways, but pitted against each other. 16 Ways to Break a Heart is a marvelous depiction of opposite perspectives viewing the same events, casting the blame onto different people.
Dan immediately starts his chapters with a negation of the contents of Natalie’s letters — or by adding details that warp the tone of the message she’s trying to lay out for the reader. He’s angsty, brooding, and jealous at times, not of other guys, but of Natalie’s successes. Still, he could be kind and relatively normal, so you don’t really want anything bad to happen to either character.
It’s pretty much immediately clear that their relationship is toxic, but the details and scenarios laid out — the passion to them — show how engrossing the relationship is for each of them.
Natalie, meanwhile, is a little psycho but you also feel really bad for her. It’s clear that she means well, that she’s earnest and artistic. She’s privileged and a little different and very glittering. But also, she puts so many of her problems on Dan, expecting him to have the answer for everything. It’s clear to see how he could buckle under so much pressure and stress. Both characters are so insecure and also so awful to each other, but in reactionary ways.
Put the two of them together and it’s WILD and INSANE. It’s a book to read in one sitting just because your head is spinning. It’s electrifying, and you can see why they both love/hate all of it.
That being said, the story was compelling but there were some ways in which it fell short. For one, there isn’t a ton of character development — which, for the story — makes some sense. Both characters have the advantage of hindsight but don’t really change much. They’re static and still marinating in their acidity.
For another, the ending. It’s pretty clear from the synopsis that it won’t end, but I felt like it all felt kind of rushed. There was an element to the whole story that fundamentally changed all of it, but wasn’t introduced until the very, very end, when both characters have a showdown of sorts. It’s one thing to have unreliable narrators and another thing for a whole problem of their relationship to suddenly drop on you. I was disappointed in how abrupt it all felt, and how the ending didn’t resolve much. That being said, I do understand shitty relationships that never quite get closure. Yes to more YA representation of people who are not meant to be together but still important chapters in each others’ lives.
This is not a book for everybody. I’m glad I read it once — it’s colorful and intense and has movie moments at times that thrilled me, as well as tapped into some dark thoughts about explosive relationship endings — but don’t read it if you need to be able to root for the characters or feel like an ending should actually wrap everything up. There are a good amount of people who I would recommend this too, and some readers with more conventional taste who I would advise to steer clear.