Night Owls by Jenn Bennett

In brief: Bex wants to a medical illustrator but can’t gain access to a real anatomy lab. A chance meeting on a night bus gives her not only that opportunity, but the chance to fall in love with Jack and discover his complex life.

The good: Honest, raw and interesting (I’ve never read a story with a romance between a heroine with a taste for anatomy drawing and a graffiti artist).

The not-so-good: Sometimes Bex was a little confused.

Why I chose it: YA + interesting, unique characters + awesome cover = super interested. Thanks Simon & Schuster for the eARC.

Year: 2015

Pages: 304 (eARC)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: San Francisco

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

I was attracted to the pretty, sparkly cover of Night Owls, but I think I would have been equally attracted to this book by its US name (The Anatomical Shape of a Heart). Both titles are perfect for this book but I bet you’re wondering how owls, anatomy, hearts and nights fit together, right? Well, they all combine to make one lovely YA read that’s quirky, serious and just plain lovely.

I love how the main characters of Night Owls, Bex and Jack, have both ordinary teenage traits and some spectacularly unique ones. Bex (don’t call her Beatrix) desperately wants to be a medical illustrator, which means she needs heaps of practise drawing real life anatomy. (Not that kind – hearts, arms and insides!) It’s an unusual ambition in an 18 year old, but she’s determined to get access to the local anatomy lab. After a failed meetup with the professor, she runs into Jack at the bus stop. The local Owl bus is late after there’s an issue with the rail system. Bex notices Jack immediately – he’s handsome and interesting, plus has just a little mystery about him. And when a golden spray can falls out of his backpack, her mind starts ticking…

There’s somebody spray painting single words around the city in beautiful font. Are they part of an anarchist graffiti gang or is there something more meaningful about this? When Bex finds CELEBRATE painted where she just happens to be having her birthday, she knows Jack is interested. Between them, they share their deepest secrets and help each other get through some pretty serious problems. The overall story is beautiful and uplifting, but there’s a gritty feel that brings things down to earth. Bex and Jack aren’t some golden perfect couple, there’s issues. Family issues (Bex doesn’t talk to her father, Jack’s sister is AWOL as far as the city is concerned), sex issues (he’s a virgin, she’s not), pressure to perform (will Bex win the art scholarship she desperately needs for college) and pressure to be normal yet extraordinary. Jenn Bennett captures the feeling of not quite knowing how to act as an adult but not wanting to be a kid – you know, the awkward phase when everything is new and exciting, yet scary.

Night Owls also has some brilliant family dynamics too. I loved the relationship Bex and her brother had with their single mum – it balanced the line between parent, friend and fun-smasher nicely. The realisation by the siblings later in the book that their mum hasn’t been quite honest with them is so raw (how could their mum lie?) that you could feel their bewilderment leaping off the page. The romance is also sweetly done – Bex and Jack are opposites in many ways but they just fit so well together in a relationship that is balanced and based on friendship. You just can’t help at smiling at how cute they are together and hoping that they’ll be sweethearts forever.

Occasionally Bex did get on my nerves, as she’s not always sure what she wants. She chops and changes, sometimes realising that she didn’t really want what she thought she wanted. But hey, that’s youth. She had the courage to work through her issues which gives her a strong edge as a female (and potentially as a good role model).

Overall, Night Owls is so delicious that you’ll want to gobble the story up in one go. It’s a true delight, whether you’re a young adult or just one at heart.

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