For Clementine Williams, there’s pretty much nothing about sophomore year that she wants to remember. She made one mistake and is now a social pariah. Because of this, her parents’ plan to spend all summer on their sailboat doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea. It’ll give her a chance to get away from everything that’s haunting her. When she meets James on one of their first stops along the river, Clem thinks he might be just the distraction she needs.
Terrible Toni-Braxton-song-associations aside, Melissa Walker’s Unbreak My Heart is less about Clementine’s (hey I know that name) heartbreak and more about growing up and the pains that go along with it. Alternating between Clem’s past indiscretions and her present nautical situation, Walker’s book is a slow-burn of a story.
There are things here that are well done. Clementine’s family is particularly well-developed: her parents are warm and loving. Her sister is pitch-perfect as far as little sisters go: adoring of Clementine and happiest when she’s near her. The moments between the two sisters were some of the book’s strongest. As a love interest, James is fine, but I never felt a real spark between the two of them. It wasn’t as interesting as I wanted it to be.
Part of the reason the chemistry was lacking has to do with Clementine herself. While the melodramatic wallowing she engages in for most of the novel feels fairly authentic, I found myself growing tired of it, especially after the specifics of her betrayal were revealed. There’s a lot of complicated stuff at work here: the double-standards for boys and girls, the prickly tendencies of female friendship, and how self-absorbing guilt can be. Even so, Clementine’s woe-is-me attitude started to grate about halfway through the story.
Walker’s relaxed pace won’t work for readers looking for a thrilling, page-turning story. Everything here happens slowly (just like it would on a meandering summer sailing trip), but Walker’s writing is so good that it’s easy to get lose in her prose. Best for readers who like their characters complex and their stories more relaxed, this book would be perfect reading material for a day on the water.
Unbreak My Heart hits bookshelves today.
Unbreak My Heart by Melissa C. Walker. Bloomsbury: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.