The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a demon—her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life—she finds the trade may have been more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she could have ever imagined.
With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something grows between them amid an otherworldy ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: Can she give someone her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?
What I Liked:
Truth be told, I didn't know much about The Hearts We Sold before picking up the book to read it. I've read Illusive and Deceptive by this author and enjoyed both books, so when I saw that she had a new book publishing in 2017, I didn't need to read the synopsis to decide if I wanted to read the book. Fast-forward over a year later and I've now discovered what this book is about - after having read it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a fantasy/sci-fi type of novel, dealing with angels and demons (well, demons). I wasn't surprised that I loved the book!
Dee Moreno has known about demons existing among humans for most of her life. People trade an a body part (arm, leg, hand, mouth, etc.) for something they desperately want. In Dee's case, she wants money, to pay for boarding school, since budget cuts have taken away her merit-based scholarship. She wants to stay in the boarding school because her home life is terrible, and she is desperate to stay away from home and at the boarding school - desperate enough to make a deal with a demon. Her heart and two years of service to the demon, in exchange for money. She gets a lot of money, but as it would turn out, the demon has her and several other "heartless" teens doing some seriously dangerous work. They are tasked with closing voids, like holes in the framework of the universe, from one world to another. One thing is for certain, when it comes to the demon and his bargains: you get what you ask for.
I picked up this book, with absolutely no expectations and no knowledge of the story, and I then proceeded to read the entire thing in one sitting, stopping only to rearrange myself in my bed because I knew I wasn't going anywhere until I finished reading the book. It was that engrossing! It's one of those books that you simply cannot stop reading. There are many books from which you have to take a break, or you can leave it for days and come back. This was not one of those books. This demanded my attention and I wasn't saying no.
The author sets the scene incrementally, bit by bit, slowly revealing the setting, the characters, the conflict. I liked how she did this; at first you're confused because you don't know anything about anything and yet you are thrown into the story with no backstory or paragraphs of world-building. But the more you read, the more intrigued you are, and the more you want to know.
This book had a magical realism feel to it, even though I think it is being marketed as something else (fantasy/paranormal, maybe). The existence of demons is so normal and everyone knows about them. Making deals with demons is nothing new, and Dee isn't The Chosen One who is able to see them or something. The unreal is part of the real - demons, disappearance of limbs, and the other ends of the bargains made. I love magical realism so I was all about this type of story. The world-building is well-written and so unique; like I said before, I love how Lloyd-Jones incrementally reveals and sets things up.
Dee is such an easy character to like and root for. She seems like a lonely, detached teen, but as the story goes on, we see that she is so strong and brave. She is full of fear, yet she faces anything. She makes the deal with the demon knowing the dangers of doing so. She knew nothing about having to work with other heartless teens to close voids, yet she faced the danger every time. Dee is a smart, determined, strong girl who needed to give herself more credit.
It broke my heart, to see her interact with her awful parents. They were never physically abusive, but both were pretty neglectful and not nice to her. Her father especially - and her mother was too weak-willed to really challenge him. Dee's terrible home life made her seem like an even stronger person - she worked hard to get into that elite boarding school, so she could have a better life away from her toxic parents.
The supernatural aspect of this story is really cool. I personally have never read anything quite like this story. The Faustian demon bargaining thing was neat - exchanging body parts for a wish/request. In Dee's case (and James's and Cora's and Cal's and Riley's), it was the heart. All of them are still functioning humans, but their bodies aren't as alive anymore. Two years without their heart, two years serving the demon, and then they get their heart back. But why are they closing voids? What are the creatures in the voids? What is the demon not telling them about the voids?
The secondary characters of the story are very likable and well-rounded. James, Cora, and Cal make up the original trio of the demon's troop. James is a charming, talented artist who dresses like a hobo but has incredible artistic talent. Cora is the no-nonsense "mom" of the group, whose bargain is almost up. Cal is the genius of the group. I adored James the most - he is sweet and compassionate and always trying to lighten the mood and make everyone laugh. Riley joins the team after the halfway point - she is tough and very kickbutt. I liked Gremma, Dee's roommate at the boarding school. She is a little strange but a whole lot of awesome - very blunt and tough and someone you'd want on your side of a fight.
There is a romance and it is so sweet! James and Dee fall for each other fairly naturally, and it's cute to watch. They end up spending a lot of time together outside of the heartless group, and James sees parts of Dee's life that she'd never shown anyone. The gradual progression of trust and then romance is so important, and very sweet. They are lots of tender and swoony moments between these two!
Worth noting is wealth of diversity in this story. Dee is half Latina; Gremma is gay; Riley is trans; Cora is African-American. There was a lot of great representation in this book, and it didn't feel like the author was forcing diversity in my face.
The big conflict is revealed towards the climax, and it does end up being a save-the-world type of climax. I won't say too much about it, but I will say that the ending was a little bittersweet. It was a very uplifting and wrapped-up ending, but there was an aspect of the ending that made me unbearably sad. And yet, I also felt somewhat content about it. I know that probably doesn't make sense, but the ending was good, in a bittersweet way.
The Hearts We Sold was thrilling, intriguing, and impossible to put down. I've not read anything like it and I'm glad, because this book was unique and fantastic. A wonderful standalone novel by an excellent and talented author!
What I Did Not Like:
The only reason this book isn't getting five stars is because of that one part of the ending that made me sad. It's a good sad because the ending makes sense and part of me expected something similar to happen. But it's still a bit sad. The ending overall is good though.
Would I Recommend It:
I mentioned above that this story had a magical realism feel to it. If you like magical realism, or fantasy/paranormal stories (I guess this could also be considered fantasy/sci-fi), this is one to try. Also, it's a standalone so there is low commitment (i.e. no waiting for additional sequels)! Trust me when I say that love it or hate it, you won't want to stop reading this book. (Hopefully you love it though.)
4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars only because (insert spoilers about the ending here). I loved this story, the characters, the swoony romance between James and Dee, and I'll be rereading this one when I need a good book to pull me out of a slump. Or simply because I want to reread a good book. Clear some shelf space, friends!
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