Title: Heartwood Box
Author: Ann Aguirre
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: 3/5 stars
The Overview: A dark, romantic YA suspense novel with an SF edge and plenty of drama, layering the secrets we keep and how appearances can deceive, from the New York Times bestselling author. In this tiny, terrifying town, the lost are never found. When Araceli Flores Harper is sent to live with her great-aunt Ottilie in her ramshackle Victorian home, the plan is simple. She’ll buckle down and get ready for college. Life won’t be exciting, but she’ll cope, right? Wrong. From the start, things are very, very wrong. Her great-aunt still leaves food for the husband who went missing twenty years ago, and local businesses are plastered with MISSING posters. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city limits that the locals don’t talk about. Ever. When she starts receiving mysterious letters that seem to be coming from the past, she suspects someone of pranking her or trying to drive her out of her mind. To solve these riddles and bring the lost home again, Araceli must delve into a truly diabolical conspiracy, but some secrets fight to stay buried… -Goodreads
My first thought into this book was, “huh, it’s interesting, but I’m kind of picking up on some similarities with Stranger Things… is it a knockoff?” Then I got a promotional email from the author boasting “Stranger Things meets The Lake House” and had a good laugh. Who doesn’t love Stranger Things?! All that said, the story does stand pretty well on its own. You can definitely see the influence from the show, but overall it’s a very minor contribution to the overall plot.
Aguirre always has an x-factor that keeps me invested in her books. Heartwood Box had an interesting mystery, which really kept the pages turning. Considering my less than stellar track record with YA lately, it’s saying something that I enjoyed the book all the way through. Because of that alone, I’d recommend it as a good read.
I also liked the characters – Ann Aguirre is one of my favorite authors specifically because I think she’s brilliant at creating tangible connections between characters. I always find myself completely invested. My favorite connection in this one was a friendship, but every relationship had meaning.
This book is definitely unique among its peers for its mystery, contemporary, historical, sci-fi genre blend. However, I’m not totally sure all the elements fit together seamlessly. The Lake House element felt a little forced, and the Stranger Things component was kind of a stretch, but what it lost in believability it more than made up for in fun-factor. Overall, as this is the last YA Aguirre plans to write (according to that same newsletter), I think she went out with flair and I also appreciate that it’s a stand-alone.
Recommendations: For a light summer read with great characters and a compelling hodge-podge of genres, Heartwood Box is a great choice! Ever so slightly more robust than most YA, it was outside the box and a quick read. I’d hand it to teens (or us ageless wonders who will read the genre forever) who love a bit of “weird” in their books, but who aren’t looking to invest in a full series.
Other books you might like: