I love all of Sara’s books, but I think Fierce Fragile Hearts is my absolute favourite. I produced actual human tears at this one (if you tell anyone this, I will have to end you).
Fierce Fragile Hearts is the sequel to Beautiful Broken Things. If you haven’t read that yet, don’t read any further because there are possible spoilers ahead.
At the start of this book, Suzanne is leaving care and moving back to Brighton. This is a Very Big Deal for her, the last time she was in Brighton she was not well, she was a bit of a mess, and she needed to deal with a lot of things. She’s worried about going back, because she thinks that people there might not see how far she has come since moving away:
“When someone knows you’ve been broken, all they see is the cracks.”
Suzanne is terrified that people won’t be able to see past what happened before she left Brighton. She is still processing her traumatic past and it still seeps into her present life. There is a beautiful quote about this where she explains:
Trauma “isn’t a bump on the road of your life, a jolt that’ll take your breath away, but only for a moment. It’s the double yellow lines snaking on either side of everything you do, trapping you on a track down a one way street. You can’t stop. You can’t pull over and take a break. You just have to keep going.”
Her Aunt Sarah is still there for her in Brighton. Sarah is a wonderful character in this book. Despite the problems that they had in Beautiful Broken Things, she still loves and cares for Suzanne showing her what it is like to be loved unconditionally, which is something Suzanne really needs.
Her life after care isn’t pretty. Her bedsit is small and unfurnished, she doesn’t have much money. She wants to have a fresh start and to stand on her own two feet, but this is far from easy. Rosie and Caddy are back in her life, but their friendship has changed. Caddy is harbouring some resentment for the way Suzanne left. Caddy is more judgemental and insensitive than she was before. Sometimes this is justified, but other times she made me cross. She and Rosie are off to university and their lives are completely different to Suzanne’s. When they leave, she feels lonely and vulnerable:
“I am not safe. There is noone who will make me safe”
I really felt for Suzanne. I wanted to reach into this book and hug her so hard.
Caddy introduces her to Matt who keeps her company. I loved the relationship between these two so much; Matt brings some much needed joy to Suzanne’s life. She also makes an unlikely friend in Dilys, an elderly neighbour who lives in her block of flats and lets her use the washing machine in exchange for company. Their friendship is just beautiful. I adored Dilys and I was so happy that Suzanne had a friend like this in her world.
She needs her friends because her parents are atrocious. If you’ve read Beautiful Broken Things, you’ll know Suzanne had an abusive childhood and suffers from complex PTSD as a result. This is very sensitively and brilliantly written by Sara: Suzanne’s anxiety, her flashbacks, the coping mechanisms and the way she binges on news of related trauma. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more relatable account of living with PTSD. Suzanne’s coping mechanisms aren’t always the healthiest, but this is so realistic: she’s just doing whatever she has to to survive.
Of course the parents put in an appearance. The dinner with her mum hurt my soul, how desperately Suzanne wants something so many people take for granted: “I so desperately want her to love me”. Her mum is clueless and very dismissive of the abuse Suzanne has loved through saying “it wasn’t some great trauma”. Honestly, I wanted to throw her down a well. There were not enough eye-rolls in all of the world for this woman. Her dad gave me such fury I hit the book. I cannot deal with that man. He is the worst. Her brother, Brian, wants her to remember the good times they had as children. He wants “some memories that aren’t tainted”. Sara has done a beautiful job of showing how two siblings can have very different outlooks and memories of their childhoods; how the abuse that Suzanne suffered has coloured her memories differently to Brian’s. His relationship with their parents is different and this leads confrontation and difficulty between the two siblings.
“Of course I get lonely, but it’s not because I don’t have a boyfriend. It’s because I don’t have a fucking family.”
Very sad things happen in this book. I shed actual tears (and if you know me at all, you’ll know I’ve cried at maybe 5 books my whole life), but it ends with a beautiful message from someone who cares so much about Suzanne. This part hurt me all the more because these words are so very similar to the last thing one of my friends said to me on what turned out to be the last time I saw her before she died.
“You are going to be a light in the world and you are going to mean so much to the people you let into your heart… the people who have failed to love you simply do not know you.”
Fierce Fragile Hearts is one of the most emotional, hopeful and healing books I have ever read. Read it if you had a childhood you need to recover from, or know someone who does, or if you are a human. Just read it.