Even If It Breaks Your Heart by Erin Hahn: YA ARC review
A big thanks to Wednesday Books for sending me an e-ARC of this book for review purposes. My thoughts are all my own.
Overview: Case has lost his best friend and, with that, some of his purpose. Walker was his partner in crime at the rodeo where they were two promising young bull riders. But when Walker passes away due to his terminal illness, Case has to figure out how to face life alone. Winnie is barely holding the world together. After graduating high school early and getting a job on Case's family ranch to help support her family, she's burning out at 19 from all the responsibility. She's an undeniable talent on a horse, but what no one seems to understand is that Winnie doesn't have the same luxuries of choice that others do. Eventually, though, Winnie will have to figure out what she'd do with her dreams if given the chance. When Winnie and Case's paths intersect, they immediately recognize they have plenty of lessons to learn from one another. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 Ugh. Case is my favorite kind of YA hero. He's sensitive and well versed emotionally. While he's a bull rider and has grown up on a ranch, he's not a stereotype, and he doesn't give into the expectations of how a "teenage boy" has to be convincingly written. Case is the kind of guy I want to hang out with. He's given a tough journey over the course of the book learning to build a life without his best friend in it, and he faces each lingering echo of grief with bravery. Part of that comes out in wanting to help others with an intensity because he doesn't know how to help himself. He's also given a lot to learn about privilege over the course of the novel as he's forced to look outside the bubble he's lived in.
Winnie is sassy and smart and self assured – a quintessential Erin Hahn heroine. She has barrel racing talent oozing out of her, and she has the confidence in her abilities. That's never a question. Winnie's hurtle to climb is giving herself permission to dream and finding the trust in others to get there. Having heaps of responsibility given to her in the form of essentially raising her younger siblings, she's always had a weight on her shoulders that would be strange to lose despite the burden. While I've never faced challenges or responsibilities as hefty as Winnie, I related to her journey of giving herself permission to make up lost time being a kid as an adult after taking life way too seriously. Learning to trust is hard, and it's a journey that takes an entire book to chip away at.
There's a rich world of characters surrounding Winnie and Case. Case's friend Pax steps in to support him from behind the scenes. Case also negotiates a somewhat tense relationship with his dad, eventually coming to understand him better by the end of the book, and he gets support from their housekeeper who raised him, Kerry. Winnie has her younger sibling, her moody teenager brother who has a good heart and her genius fourth grader sister who wants to live life by her side. There's also her father who Winnie has to care for like a third kid. And she gets support from her horse trainer in and out of the arena as well.
Plot: 5 What I really love about the plot of this novel is that it subverts regular romance expectations. Every place I thought it'd take a predictable and slightly irksome turn, it stayed the course and did its own thing. While Goodreads calls it a romance and Winnie and Case's love story does play a significant role, I don't see this as the actual genre. (And this is not in any way to diminish romance as a genre but to give a broader view for those who might not be a huge fan of the genre). Their romance isn't the point to me. It's a part of the larger development. And the tension and plot points of the novel honor that perspective.
This is a book about navigating grief. It's a book about learning to depend on a community you've never had before and understanding that your dreams are as valid as everyone else's. I like that Case and Winnie were allowed to just develop their connection as a healthy, safe, supportive refuge.
Writing: 5 If you've read my blog for a while, you know that Erin Hahn is an author that I love, particularly when it comes to YA. I'm definitely sad that this is the end of her YA run, at least for now, but it feels incredibly full circle though. She shines the most when writing about worlds encapsulated in country songs, and this book has me thinking a lot about You'd Be Mine. This book warmed my heart. I loved the rodeo setting and the message and the execution. While the topics are heavy, this isn't a sad read. There's so much hope and love and laughter woven in between that it leaves you with that classic YA sense of hope. It never goes dark. And, much like my experience with the first time I downloaded Erin's debut book off NetGalley on a whim, I devoured this book in a day, not wanting to let go of the story. Fantastic characters, great sense of world building, funny banter, and a solid heart – what's not to love?
Also, it's a little wild to reflect on time through these books. I was reading up to the eighteen year old characters when You'd Be Mine came out, and now I'm a year older than Winnie is in the book reading and living right along with her.
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