YA Book Review: ‘Darkhearts’ by James L. Sutter

Books Entertainment

Friends… to enemies… to frenemies… to more?

I haven’t read a book straight through in years. Let’s face it, I am getting old. Once it hits 11 o’clock or so, I’m pretty out. But once I started James L. Sutter’s debut YA romance Darkhearts, I could not put it down. Not only that, but I kept laughing out loud (there is a reference to the Earl of Lemongrab that I will never forgive this author for) and almost waking up the rest of my family. I stayed up until almost 2 AM reading this book and had absolutely no regrets.

Image: Macmillan/Wednesday Books

Darkhearts is a YA story that focuses on the developing romance between two former friends turned enemies turned boyfriends. While the romance develops as most teenage love stories do, with plenty of questions and awkward moments, Sutter handles it authentically with plenty of realistic characters. The dialogue in particular is fantastic–teenagers and anyone who spends time with them will recognize their voices and senses of humor.

But the humor isn’t all that is authentic about this book. Sutter masterfully deals with topics of grief, sexuality, jealousy, parents, insecurity, and friendship. He doesn’t shy from how teenagers actually talk, think, and feel, even when things get complicated. There is a fine line between writing with emotion and melodrama, and a great many authors, especially those writing for teens, cross that line. I admit it’s one of my pet peeves about many YA novels. I never felt that way about this book, however. While there is plenty of emotion of all flavors, the characters didn’t seem whiny, and it didn’t feel like the author was trying too hard. Sutter truly tapped into his inner teenager for this one, making it enjoyable and impactful.

The two main characters in Darkhearts are well-developed and three dimensional. While this is a romance and that plotline takes center stage, David, the main character and narrator, has subplots concerning his father, a close friend, SATs, and his developing career, all things teens can relate to. I think this makes the romance plotline stronger, because we can see that while David has his weaknesses and issues, he has a complete life and is a person outside of his relationship with Chance, his love interest.

Because Chance is famous, he and David’s relationship has some atypical complications. But it is the characters’ inner conflicts, rather than these external ones, that build the core of the story, and it’s the journey of overcoming these that moves the story forward. And like most well-written books, the conflicts are woven together in such a way that creates a cohesive whole. This book really works as a complete picture of the characters’ lives and romance, the joys, messes, triumphs, tears, and all.

So what didn’t I like? The fact that the story ended! I really wanted to read more about what happened with David and Chance. While the book had a satisfying ending, I found myself wanting to follow their adventures further. Did David really overcome his flaw? What will happen when Chance tours more? Does David become a world-famous woodworker/carpenter? I guess I’ll just have to hope for the best!

About Darkhearts:

Perfect for fans of Alice Oseman and Red, White, & Royal Blue, Darkhearts is a hilarious, heartfelt, enemies-to-lovers romance about love, celebrity, and what happens when the two collide.

When David quit his band, he missed his shot at fame, trapped in an ordinary high school life while his ex–best friend, Chance, became the hottest teen pop star in America.

Then tragedy throws David and Chance back into contact. As old wounds break open, the boys find themselves trading frenemy status for a confusing, secret romance―one that could be David’s ticket back into the band and the spotlight.

As the mixture of business and pleasure becomes a powder keg, David will have to choose: Is this his second chance at glory? Or his second chance at Chance?

Photo: Elise Koncsek

About James L. Sutter:

James L. Sutter is a co-creator of the best-selling Pathfinder and Starfinder roleplaying games. He’s the author of the young adult romance novel Darkhearts, as well as the fantasy novels Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine. His short stories have appeared in Nightmare, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the #1 Amazon best-seller Machine of Death, and more. James lives in Seattle, where he’s performed with musical acts ranging from metalcore to musical theater.

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