I don’t quite remember where I heard about Heart in a Box – I think it must have been one of the bookish podcasts I listen to – but I do know that the enthusiastic description was exciting and that I bought it right away.
Heart in a Box is the story of a girl named Emma who has just gone through a breakup, and wishes that she could get rid of her her heart so that she will no longer have to deal with the emotions of pain and loneliness. Of course, after “Bob” shows up to grant her wish, she realizes having no heart is worse than having a broken one, and goes on a journey to reunite the pieces of her lost heart.
This is one of those sorts of stories where I the entire time I was reading it I was like, “yes.” The author just gets it. From the awesome gay best friend to the need to do weird shit to your hair after a traumatic event, everything in this story just felt so connected to reality, despite the fact that the entire plot is based on a fantastical heart loss and reclamation system. The character’s journey takes her on an epic cross country road trip, with stops in several major cities. I haven’t been to all of the places Emma visits, but I’ve been to enough of them to appreciate the authentic vibe the writer and illustrator have given the setting. Mostly, though, it is being able to identify and empathize with Emma on every step of her journey that sells this story. Granted, Emma’s actual situation is a bit unique, as are many of the ordeals she must face on her quest, but the emotional issues she deals with are universal and completely understandable.
The art in this graphic novel is unique, strange, and beautiful. It took a little while for me to adapt to the style, but it is visually striking and suits the story. The artwork really started to grow on me after a bit, and I really fell in love with it by the end of the story. The visuals greatly contribute to the feel of the characters and setting as the story progress. It is incredibly well integrated with the story being told.
Overall I think this is a fantastic story, with beautiful art, and a charming and heartfelt message. I love all of the characters and how they interact with each other and the world around them. The book feels effortlessly truthful in a way that many other stories strive for, yet fail to achieve. It is depressing, heartwarming, entertaining, and thought provoking, all while being a quick read. It leaves a lasting impression, and is a story I’m sure I’ll want to revisit in the future. Highly recommended.