“Heartless” by Leah Rhyne

I think my thought pattern when requesting this from Edelweiss (several months ago; I just randomly got approved recently) went something like this:

Me: Hmm, this looks interesting. It’s got a picture of a clockwork heart on the front. Maybe it’s steampunk?
*reads description*
Me: Oh, it’s taking more of a Frankenstein approach. Well, that’s cool too. I like cyborgs and artificial life and all of that.

At no point did it cross my mind to wonder if my stomach was strong enough for this book. Body horror’s never really bothered me too much, after all. I’ve watched Hannibal, even if I ended up peeking through my fingers for some of it because I had my hands over my eyes. I’m usually fine with gore, more so than violence — I think it’s a pain thing. At least, that’s always been the case with TV shows. So yeah, I figured this would be fine.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

heartless

Publication date: May 10th, 2016

It turns out I’m actually a lot more squeamish than I thought, and definitely too squeamish to enjoy this book. It wasn’t the pain thing, because pain’s not a factor when a character is technically dead. Yet I was definitely not coping with the grossness. And there’s a lot of it.

Put simply, this is a zombie story. It’s of the scientific Frankenstein-style bent rather than the paranormal or magical interpretation, but it’s still a zombie story. This means we get to see Jolene, the reanimated corpse of a teenage girl, wandering around and slowly rotting throughout the book.

Her skin flaps open. Her extremities fall off. Her fingernails drop off abruptly, and the characters constantly reference how much she smells. And it doesn’t let up! Every moment there’s some new horror. I appreciate the dedication to really thinking about the whole ‘undead’ thing and all the research that must have gone into looking at decomposition here, but I couldn’t stomach it.

I actually had to read this in small chunks, which isn’t my usual style, because after a while it got too much to keep reading.

Maybe some readers would have been okay with the gross stuff (some might even find it entertaining), and as a result they’d be able to appreciate the characters and plot. There’s certainly plenty going on, with a handful of plot twists I did my best to guess. (One of them I thought I knew, then thought I was wrong, then turned out to be right, so that was a nice double bluff there. Another I was very proud of myself for deducing.)

There were some sweet relationships and emotional moments, and I really enjoyed how loving Jo’s parents were, since that’s super rare in books, especially YA fiction. In other words, there was plenty of good.

But… the book on the whole? Was gross. Stomach-churningly horrific in terms of body horror. I don’t know what it was about it that I couldn’t deal with, compared to many other violent and disturbing things I’ve read/watched/written myself. Apparently, rotting corpses are a big no-no for me.

Good to know for the future, I guess, but it definitely inhibited my enjoyment of this in a major way. Not recommended for the squeamish and pathetic like me, because it’s basically impossible to enjoy the plot when you’re feeling nauseated by every bit of description.

A purely subjective rating this might be, but then, isn’t that always the case? I feel like this one in particular definitely doesn’t reflect the quality of the book but it does reflect how much I enjoyed it, and in the end, that’s all I’m really qualified to say.

Rating: **

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