Hungry Hearts is the debut novel of author Julie Hoag. A young adult romance that tackles some tough mental health issues. It’s a departure from my usual reading, but a welcome one.
Special thanks to Julie Hoag and Swoon Reads for providing me with a free copy of Hungry Hearts in exchange for an honest review.
What’s Hungry Hearts about?
Hungry Hearts is the story of Landra. A girl trying to navigate her sophomore year at high school. Trying to date the guy of her dreams, and fend off the romantic intentions of the cute, but irritating Brian.
As Brian attempts to woo her with his home baked goods, Landra who struggles with anorexia, finds his attempt off putting.
Eventually a friendship blooms between the pair. Though the relationship hasn’t progressed how Brian would like, Landra battles her anorexic impulses enough to try some of his food at last.
As the story progresses Landra must choose between the two boys; the high school jock Hunter, the boy of her fantasies, and Brian with his sweet smile and even sweeter cooked treats.
But if Landra is to find the boy she is supposed to be with, she must overcome her self-doubt and shame.
What I liked about Hungry Hearts?
As I said in my introduction to this post, this isn’t my usual read. I tend to read more sci-fi and fantasy than contemporary fiction. Even so, it was good to read from a different genre to usual.
I think it’s admirable that Julie Hoag has approached the difficult subject matter of anorexia within a teen novel. For how common this illness is, it doesn’t come up that often within young adult fiction.
This is an own voices story. What I mean when I say that is that Julie Hoag has been quite open with her own struggle with anorexia. This means she addresses the issue in relation to her own experience. I commend her for this.
In the final section of this post I’ll be sharing some excerpts from Julie’s ‘letter to the reader’ that address this more explicitly. It is important for people with mental illness to be represented in literature, particularly for those with the illness themselves. It’s helpful in sparking discussion around support and representation of illness.
Hungry Hearts also shows the struggle of young adults with bullying on social media and in person. This can have a lasting impact on people, and so it’s good it’s in the book.
The romance between Landra and her final suitor (no, I won’t be giving any spoilers for who she ends up with!) is very cute. Their text conversations are funny and sweet, mirroring one of the major ways teens communicate.
What I didn’t like about Hungry Hearts?
As others who have reviewed this book have mentioned, Landra doesn’t receive any formal or medical help for her anorexia. This can be seen as problematic as it may, particularly for younger readers, reinforce the idea that their self-image issues will be resolved by finding a romantic partner.
Anorexia is a serious illness, and I would encourage anyone struggling with it to seek professional and medical help. There is no shame in doing so, or for seeking help. While you can battle on alone, as Landra, and many others do, it is better often to have assistance with your recovery.
Julie Hoag herself addresses this issue in her letter to the reader:
I wrote this story for those who are hiding their anorexia as I did. I made it out of that storm alive, but it could have easily gone the other way…Anorexia nervosa is a serious eating disorder. Should I have gotten help? Yes. Without a doubt I should have gotten help, but I didn’t realize this until I grew older. Hindsight is even less blind when the storm is over. I did survive without assistance, without intervention, but I would not recommend this path for anyone because it’s dangerous and too risky. If you have some of these thoughts or do some of the same things Landra did in this story, please talk to someone.Julie Hoag
I don’t think Julie should be unfairly critiqued for the way anorexia is handled within the book. She is writing primarily from her own experience.
Landra’s journey isn’t over, this story does a good job of showing that mental illness is only one component of a person. Her story is not all about her illness, but rather about her life and loves. Anorexia is just one of the challenges she faces.
This novel did have explicit language, particularly in the first 25% of the book. This may put some readers off, as it almost did me. Once I got through that it was fine. However, this may not be an issue for you, it depends on the reader.
I would recommend Hungry Hearts to teens over sixteen years old looking for a sweet romance with a flawed character striving to overcome her weaknesses.
This is Julie Hoag’s first novel and overall I think she’s done a great job telling story of teen drama that touches on some very heavy topics. I wish Julie all the best for her future novels!
Trigger warning: Hungry Hearts does contain some sexual references, explicit language, references to anorexia and bullying. Readers who have sensitivities to these topics may wish to be cautious in reading this book.
Where can I get a copy?
Hungry Hearts is released on the 21st of January, and you can pick up a digital copy on Amazon here.
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