Review: ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ by Holly Bourne

hhclbSynopsis: “Amber, Evie and Lottie: three girls facing down tough issues with the combined powers of friendship, feminism and cheesy snacks. Both hilarious and heart-rending, this is Amber’s story of how painful – and exhilarating – love can be, following on from Evie’s story in Am I Normal Yet?

All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber’s hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.

And then there’s prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie’s advice, there’s no escaping the fact: love is hard.”

I started reading Holly Bourne’s books after I met her at YALC in London last summer. I bought ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ to get signed and she was so lovely and funny that I knew her writing would be too. I wasn’t wrong, and ended up devouring ‘Soulmates’ and ‘The Manifesto on How to be Interesting’ too.

‘How Hard Can Love Be’ follows on in ‘The Normal Series’ but is told from the point of view of Evie’s best friend and Spinster Club founder, Amber. Can I just point out that I love Amber? All of Bourne’s characters (especially the Spinster Club trio) are full of life, but Amber is so awkward, angry and sarcastic, especially when hit smack-bang in the face with American culture, that I challenge any British teenage girl not to relate.

The book follows Amber’s trip to work at an American summer camp, where she is visiting her mother for the first time in two years. We slowly learn more details about her family’s situation as she tries to deal with it. The story is equal parts hilarious and heart-wrenching. Here are some things I especially loved about it:

Feminism: In the same way that ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ was so on point about mental health, HHCLB tackles women’s rights in a way that is easy for the young adult reader to digest, but without being patronising. This is what we need in every book. Bourne dissects complex theories in women’s rights, breaking them down through the teenage voice of best friend/genius Lottie. It really gives you something to think about.

One example is the “Female Chauvinistic Pig” theory, or how the liberation of women’s sexuality has turned so far around that it’s no longer a case of women being able to embrace their sexual nature if they want to. Instead we are forced into a big sexiness competition by society, which of course benefits men. HHCLB just goes to show that teenage girls can actually think for themselves and try to break away from such moulds.

Bourne also shows us that it’s okay not to be a perfect feminist all the time. Amber encapsulates the common internal battle between needing to take your emotions out on something vs. trying to do the right thing for womankind. She perfectly illustrates this issue when she makes comments like, ‘I knew it probably wasn’t strictly feminist, to bond with one girl by bitching about another.’ It just goes to show how far competition over appearance has been ingrained into us by society that even the inspirational Amber has bitchy thoughts. And we can’t possibly judge her for it.

Humour: I cannot get over how many times I snorted out loud whilst reading this book. You’ll have to read it to see for yourself.

Real family problems: This is so emotional. I JUST WANT AMBER’S MUM TO LOVE ME. Teenage girls are typically labelled hormonal, hysterical, stroppy, and over the top just because they disagree with their parents. Amber is, from the outside, all these things (and even admits to feeling childish about her outbursts) but we follow her thought process the whole way through. We understand and agree with where she’s coming from but as the adults in her life consistently don’t get it, the reader wants to scream/cry with frustration as much as Amber. And that’s from my point of view, never having experienced family angst like that. I can’t imagine how emotional this would be for any readers who have gone through similar things.

One thing I loved slightly less in HHCLB was Perfect Kyle. But the more I thought about it, I realised the fact that the romance was not the main element (in the novel or in Amber’s mind) does redeem him. Yes, it’s a romance. But it’s not a YA trope about going to camp, meeting the perfect-boy-who-just-happens-to-be-in-love-with-you and falling in insta-love. Kyle just happens to be there as a relief from all of Amber’s family issues. And the fact that he’s there to listen (and provide some happiness instead of another angsty plot line) lets Bourne get much grittier about Amber’s mother without the book becoming a full on woe-is-me sob story.

Harry Potter references: Possibly my favourite line was, ‘I learned a lesson about not judging people until you’ve found out whether or not they’ve read Harry Potter.’ This is basically a life lesson that everyone should live by. Also, don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Harry Potter. JKR (aka ‘The Queen’) has had such an influence on our generation growing up that this is exactly right; Potter references are now part of our everyday vernacular and I love how HHCLB incorporates that.

Friendships: Not much needs to be said about this. If you’ve read either of ‘The Normal Series’ you’ll know how perfect Evie, Lottie and Amber are together. It makes me warm and fuzzy inside. They’re just. So. Bloody. Adorable. Plus I really respected how Amber was able to make friends at camp without them getting all possessive and jealous. They’re just really excited for her because, once again, Bourne’s ladies break out of gender stereotypes. Boom.


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