Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb

I started Cures for Heartbreak on my lunch hour and finished it that same night. I read fast so I didn’t have to absorb it, turning pages both to know what was going to happen and to keep an emotional distance, wanting to save myself from . . . well, heartbreak, actually.

Cures for Heartbreak is about Mia, a fifteen-year-old girl whose mother was diagnosed with melanoma and died twelve days later. Soon after, her father is hospitalized with heart trouble. Mia understandably spends a lot of time floundering both in school and emotionally as she tries to understand what’s going on. She reads books about orphans, dresses in her mom’s clothes, and flunks some of her classes. Meanwhile, her (recovered) dad has retired and is living off her mom’s life insurance, their house is a wreck, and she and her sister are still two very different people who clash. A lot.

What sets this book apart is that Mia is able to ask some really difficult questions: Why is her father now able to express the love that her mother always longed for? How do we keep from reducing the people we lose to facts on an index card? Will she ever feel whole again?

There’s not a clear “cure” for Mia’s heartbreak, though she is certainly looking. She reads romance novels, trying to learn what love looks like, knowing that there’s more to it than what she saw of her parents’ fractious relationship. She considers her mother’s first love and imagines a relationship for herself. And, finally, she finds someone to care about – a cancer survivor she met when her father was in the hospital. If there is a cure for Mia’s heartbreak, it’s to remember her mother and to have a heart that is open to love, and to let her father do the same.

This book, instead of being one straight narrative, is set up in chunks, similar to Melissa Bank or All This Heavenly Glory by Elizabeth Crane. It could have been much longer and still would have kept my attention, but serving it up in pieces helped move the story along, rather than getting bogged down in detail.

Since Dad died last year, one of my biggest fears is that my mom will get sick, too, which is why I was so drawn to this book. I want to read about how other people have survived these things. It helps me breathe easier knowing that there are people who know how I feel. This is also why I felt the need to keep an emotional distance from the book, to read it quickly – I’m still dealing with some of those feelings myself, still learning that there’s something between being closed off and falling apart, and I was afraid that really absorbing the book might turn me into a wreck. Which would have been okay, except, did I mention I was on my lunch break?

The book closes with an afterword from the author, who explains that much of the story is autobiographical, which adds another level to an already wonderful, sorrowful, hopeful book. It’s aimed at teenagers, but don’t let that stop you – there is some pretty great stuff being written for teenagers these days, and this book is a perfect example of that.

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