Book review: Angeli Dumatol’s “Heartstruck”

Frankly I’m a little pissed there aren’t more videos of Filipinas doing arnis

In the continuing chronicles of me being a garbage person, I finally got around to reading and reviewing Angeli Dumatol’s YA novella, “Heartstruck”. I was supposed to read this and have the review out on October 15, but since I am a G A R B A G E P E R S O N, all of this is only getting done now.

Anyone else still interested in hearing my garbage person thoughts? If you’re that rare reader of garbage person thoughts, then click on the link to read more!

“Heartstruck” is about 16-year-old Alexa Ramos, resident It Girl of New Hope Academy. She’s popular, has three best friends who think the world of her, and even a persistent boy trying to catch her attention. It looks like she has it all, but as is so often the case, there’s more to her than people think. Alexa, however, would rather have that secret side of her remain secret.

It could have stayed that way forever if it weren’t for the reappearance of Theo Guevarra, a friend she thought had completely vanished from her life. Theo could throw Alexa’s perfect life out of order, and Alexa isn’t about to let that happen. Will she be able to keep up the facade or will Theo tear her perfect world apart?

Before anything else, let’s start the review with me admitting to having certain expectations with regards to this book, all of it due to the fact that I watched the live reading of one of the book’s more physical scenes. If you weren’t there, that reading could be best described as a JOURNEY. Yes, the all caps are warranted.

Going into this book, I thought certain characters would do certain things, and to be honest they didn’t do what I expected. And boy am I thankful for that.

I like how Alexa’s social awkwardness was fleshed out on the page. It would have been so easy to go the expected route and have Alexa become someone weird, eccentric, or a loner. But Alexa is popular and your typical girly-girl, or at least she fakes it really well. And isn’t keeping up that facade essentially another form of social awkwardness.

Another characterization that didn’t go the way I thought it would was how Alexa’s popular friends were portrayed. Mean Girls and numerous movies before it over the decades have given us templates to follow for these kinds of characters, but Angeli chooses to let them be teen girls who just happen to be popular, and it is refreshing to not have these teenage girls fighting each other. When they do turn against Alexa at one point in the story, it’s all for reasons that are easy to understand and even support.

Then there is Theo, who is quiet and strong, and not in any toxically masculine way. That’s another thing I found refreshing about the story — to not have a teenage girl’s conundrum revolve around a boy. What Alexa really needs to confront are her own demons, which Theo is only tangentially related to. And yes, yes, I know that there are other books that treat girl characters like this as well, but it’s always great to add another one to that list.

I also liked how “Heartstruck” captured the persistence of childhood trauma and how adolescence makes every little problem seem bigger than it is. Sure, children are resilient, but I’m sure each and every one of us has a childhood taunt that still affects us to this day. Maybe the only difference is we have better coping mechanisms for it now.

Arnis also gets a starring role in “Heartstruck”, and I am so excited to see how foreign readers will react to it. Arnis really comes off as dynamic and action-packed in Angeli’s writing, so much so that I even looked up arnis videos afterwards.

All in all, “Heartstruck” was a book that upended my expectations and I am thankful for that. Add it to your shelves and let it strike at your heart as well!

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