NB: This book is also known as Night Owls in the UK.
The Anatomical Shape of A Heart is a super super shippy, super super fluffy YA contemporary novel about a young artist named Bex who’s really obsessed with anatomy.
Which is a good 80% of why I’m reviewing this book. Bex wants to be a medical illustrator, and the book begins with her trying to get permission to draw cadavers at the teaching hospital to help her win a scientific art scholarship for college. When she’s forced to take the night bus home from her appointment, she meets Jack, who, she quickly discovers, is the now infamous golden-penned graffiti artist writing words all over San Francisco. In the world of YA contemporary, it’s a pretty unusual set-up.
And I have to describe the story that follows as fluffy, even if it does deal with some serious issues, like a plotline involving schizophrenia. It has dark elements, but it exists in a world where you know everything is safe and will turn out OK in the end. The book is structured around Bex’s scholarship competition, but the main focus is its cute romance, and it is cute, and written in a way that pulls you in. Bex and Jack stand out as protagonists — Bex as the talented artist desperate to draw cadavers, and Jack as the Buddhist vegetarian vandal — but they’re also both such teenagers, in a way that makes the book feel incredibly real. Bex means well, but she has a self-serving and rebellious streak, and when she fights with her parents, she can be downright cruel. Jack is painfully overconfident, even as he’s insecure, completely blase about the escalating potential consequences of his actions and the near inevitability of getting caught.
In fact, my main criticism of the book is that it might be too nice and fluffy, even despite the aforementioned schizophrenia plotline, because the potential conflict doesn’t really ever get ramped up into a plot. There are a bunch of problems and tensions lurking — Bex’s non-relationship with her father, Jack’s relationship with HIS father, Bex’s struggles to be able to afford to go to college, the fact that Jack is wanted on felony charges for vandalism — but none of it is explored in depth. The growing relationship has very few real obstacles, and it feels like there are many potential sources of conflict that pop up in the background, and then get resolved in the background as well. I really enjoyed reading the book while I was reading it, but when I looked back on it once I was done, I wanted more from it.
The book also suffers from a slight lack of female friends. Bex’s two friends are away for the summer and are basically mentioned twice — once to establish that, and once to say they sent her a joint text on her birthday. There’s a sense in that moment that Bex feels isolated from them, but again, that’s not really explored, so they’re mostly just kind of missing.
But despite that, The Anatomical Shape of a Heart is incredibly fun to read. It’s the sort of story to carry you out of a reading rut, to cheer you up at the end of a long winter, or to help pass the time on a long and fidgety plane ride. Definitely recommended!