The “Heartbreak Homes” referenced in the title of Nova Scotia – based YA author Jo Treggiari’s (She is also co-owner of the fabulous Block Shop Books in Lunenburg), latest novel is an upscale housing development that went belly up leaving only the model home finished. This is where the story starts, at a blow-out party hosted by Malcom “Mal” Bradley, whose father was the developer of Heartwood Homes. The “Heartbreak” comes from the fact that the project went bankrupt and many people lost their money and their livelihood.
The story’s three narrators all attend the party. Frankie goes with her best friend Jessa, who has recently started hanging out with the cool kids and has a crush on Mal. Martin goes because he is desperate to reconnect with his old friends, friends he lost because his father had invested his (and others’) money in the project and lost it all, necessitating a move across town and a change of schools for Martin. Cara is there with her gang of three other girls to steal. They are homeless and desperate for food and items they might be able to sell in order to make their lives slightly less awful.
These three characters are there when a horrible crime takes place. In fact, it is Martin and Frankie who discover the body of a classmate and from there the novel’s locked-room structure (everyone’s a suspect) keeps you turning the pages lickety-split. This is a story that, like One of Us Is Lying, tests the allegiances of these characters as they try to figure out who the culprit might be. All three of these kids are sympathetic, likeable, and believable. I was particularly taken with Cara; her circumstances are awful and she does her best to look after the other girls she ‘lives’ with.
All I ever wanted was a home. For the ground to settle under my feet long enough for me to put down roots. Instead, for the last fourteen days, we’d been colder, wetter, and hungrier than ever.
Strangely, the book’s title also relates to the heartbreak found in all three of the these characters’ homes – or lack thereof. Frankie lives with her grandparents, who do not seem to understand her or even, at times, really like her. Martin’s father drinks too much and home is no longer a safe and warm place. Cara doesn’t have a home at all, has been – along with her friends – in and out of foster homes or without a safe place to call home for as long as she can remember.
While Heartbreak Homes is definitely a mystery, complete with the requisite red herrings and plot twists, it is also an interesting commentary on homelessness, family, responsibility and loyalty. I loved spending time with these characters and if the mystery itself unraveled just a little too neatly, it hardly matters. This is a great book.