In brief: Anna is burned out and the last straw is when her boyfriend wants an open relationship. Anna thinks she will get her revenge, but she gets much more from Quan – a relationship and realisation that her role is not to please everyone else.
The good: Very, very emotional at times.
The not-so-good: I feel so bad for Anna at times!
Why I chose it: Helen Hoang writes romance with such a big heart and soul. Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the copy.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Setting: San Francisco
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
If you were expecting The Heart Principle to be ‘just’ a romance novel featuring the mysterious Quan from Helen Hoang’s first two novels, be prepared for so much more. This is a heavy hitting emotional read on multiple fronts, including burnout, caring for loved ones and families who can be deeply uncaring.
The story introduces us to Anna, who became a YouTube sensation after a clumsy walk into a music stand revealed that she is a brilliant violinist. Now she has a record deal and music composed just for her, but she can’t practise without going in circles. To top it off, her boyfriend declares he wants an open relationship just to see what might be out there. Anna is used to hiding her emotions to please others, but this time she is angry. She’s going to find what’s out there too and that’s how she meets Quan. Quan has been through some bad times too, and they find solace in each other, both as friends and romantically. Quan is supportive of Anna where her family is not (truly, Anna’s family is just horrible to her – worse than Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters). He listens and respects her, and encourages her to share her feelings and speak out. But it’s difficult for Anna, particularly when tragedy strikes her family and her whole world changes. She’s not herself any more, but will she find the strength to speak her feelings to Quan and her family?
This is an intense read that deals with more than romance. The romance between Anna and Quan is a bumpy road, with the misunderstandings you would expect, but for reasons that hit harder – loyalty to family, body image and simply being unable to speak out. Grief is also a strong theme for Anna on multiple fronts – not being able to play her violin as she wanted, losing a loved one and not being able to voice her concerns, even to Quan. The caregiving scenes are particularly tough as Anna is caught between the wishes of her sister and her father with no one to turn to. There are of course some lighter scenes, such as Quan and Anna watching documentaries together and Anna’s palpable relief when her therapist suggests she is autistic. The relationship between Quan and Anna is more than just kissing but a deeply caring friendship.
The writing is brutally honest, and I commend Helen Hoang for writing with such clarity the good and bad of very tough times. She paints her characters without apology, from the horrible Julian and Priscilla to Quan and his vulnerabilities. I do love that this story was so much more than just a romantic relationship and really delves into other issues like carer burnout. I am here for whatever Helen chooses to write next – serious, sexy or otherwise.