My Spare Heart by Jared Thomas is the perfect example of a slice-of-life story.
We follow Phoebe as her life is on the cusp of some huge changes, and the book has this engaging and mellow tone as you find yourself absorbed into the ups and downs of Phoebe’s world. It all felt very real and down-to-earth. Realistic teens facing real everyday situations. It’s packed full of heart as it tackles the hard reality of being a teen with an alcoholic parent.
Phoebe’s parents are divorce and she’s recently moved in with her father and his new girlfriend (who is, in Phoebe’s opinion, super annoying). Phoebe resents being forced to live in a new place, attend a new hippy school, and lose her old friends and life. The new Steiner schools she’s attending feels too wishy-washy and new age for her. Not to mention there’s no readily available basketball team, which is Phoebe’s #1 passion. Basically life sucks. But it’s made infinitely worse by her alcoholic mother. Her mother never shows up when she promises to, she’s chronically late, she lies, she blows Phoebe off and then manipulates her emotionally. The relationship is so toxic, it broke my heart for Phoebe. And the whole time she’s justifying her mother’s horrible behaviour because she so desperately wants to believe her mother loves her.
The main cast all felt super deep and complex, and I loved getting to know them. Phoebe of course takes centre stage, and her arc of recognising her mother’s toxicity and also accepting her new life/family is really 🥺💛 great. Phoebe’s mum is white, and her dad is Indigenous Australian. Her dad keeps them connected to their roots and community, and I loved the chapters were they went hiking back in their home country.
Dreams and hopes and promises are beautiful and dangerous things. I wanted Mum to be on top of her shit, and I wanted to be on top of my shit. I wanted to live in a world where people give me space to be who I am, to be able to enjoy my culture. It doesn’t seem like a big ask, but it’s the little things that hurt the most when they don’t come your way.
Phoebe and Caitlin’s (the step-mother) relationship was the most fascinating to me. It’s full of ups-and-downs, starting off with Caitlin overcompensating for being new to the family and Phoebe being frosty and bitter about Caitlin’s presence. The way Caitlin was so easily loving and affectionate to Phoebe, dropped everything to help her if she was hurt, and didn’t invalidate Phoebe’s feelings was so nice to read. The growth between them was amazing. This is one of my favourite tropes: family choosing you.
The story balances the emotional upheaval scenes with lowkey scenes of visiting the beach or hanging out with friends. I’m really clueless about basketball but I still found the game scenes great (and not without their dramas 👀👀👀) And there’s ever-shifting friend dynamics and discussions about calling out racism and sexual harassment. As the only Aboriginal teen in her school, Phoebe feels isolated and unsafe at times, and it’s a journey to find her feet in this new life she’s living.
This is a story of healing and trust, featuring a teen slowly rebuilding her life with the love and support she always deserved.
Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the review copy!
Title: My Spare Heart
Author: Jared Thomas
Date Published: May 29th 2022
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Purchase: Book Depository, Dymocks, Amazon US
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Seventeen-year-old Phoebe’s life is turned upside down when she moves from the city to the country to live with her dad in this powerful and uplifting story about family breakdowns, facing truths and finding balance.
I mean, Mum didn’t drink that much. All of my friends’ parents loved their champagne or whatever. Everyone drank in The Village, too. I’d only been there for about a month and there’d already been five wine and food festivals. Mum’s drinking wasn’t a big deal. Right?
Phoebe’s non-Indigenous mother, a busy event manager, and her father, an Aboriginal man and uni lecturer, have split up and she’s moved to sleepy old Willunga with him and his new health-obsessed girlfriend. It’s only a few kilometres from Phoebe’s old friends and the city, but it feels like another world.
Her new school is full of hippies, but some of the kids are cool and the local basketball team is tight, and before long Phoebe’s fitting in. But as her mum becomes increasingly unreliable, Phoebe’s grades begin to suffer, her place on the basketball team is under threat and her worries spiral out of control.
Phoebe can’t tell her friends and is worried her dad will get angry, but pretending everything is fine is breaking her heart. How can she help her mum without tearing her family apart?