Book Review – ‘Heartwood Box’ by Ann Aguirre

Title: Heartwood Box
Author: Ann Aguirre
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Publication Date: July 9th, 2019
Word/Page Count: 336 pages (hardcover)

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A dark, romantic YA suspense novel with an SF edge and plenty of drama, layering the secrets we keep and how appearances can deceive, from the New York Times bestselling author.

In this tiny, terrifying town, the lost are never found. When Araceli Flores Harper is sent to live with her great-aunt Ottilie in her ramshackle Victorian home, the plan is simple. She’ll buckle down and get ready for college. Life won’t be exciting, but she’ll cope, right?

Wrong. From the start, things are very, very wrong. Her great-aunt still leaves food for the husband who went missing twenty years ago, and local businesses are plastered with MISSING posters. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city limits that the locals don’t talk about. Ever. When she starts receiving mysterious letters that seem to be coming from the past, she suspects someone of pranking her or trying to drive her out of her mind. To solve these riddles and bring the lost home again, Araceli must delve into a truly diabolical conspiracy, but some secrets fight to stay buried…

This book caught my interest with that gorgeous cover and the blurb which per the author’s pitch is Stranger Things meets The Lake House. I recently binge-watched season 3 of Stranger Things, I’m a massive fan, so those vibes got me excited, and I’m old enough to have watched The Lake House when it was released 13 (!!) years ago, which makes me feel decrepit as the main character notes “If my great-aunt knows about it, then it’s probably pretty old.

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Unfortunately the sci-fi thriller conspiracies didn’t mesh well with the time-crossed love story, with not enough attention given to either leading to both plots feeling inadequately developed in the story. The premise was excellent as I could see the bones of a great book here, which is why I kept reading even when I was tempted to give up, but it was frustrating to see the lack of sufficient follow-through on either of the main elements because it kept me from being emotionally invested.

The Lake House aspect was particularly weak – our protagonist Araceli exchanges only a couple letters with Oliver, a soldier in World War I, before she’s looking forward to hearing from him as the bright spot in her day (despite being mostly convinced that this is an elaborate hoax) and after a handful more, they’re suddenly in love. It was completely unconvincing, which made Araceli’s reckless decision to send intel to help Oliver even more idiotic – I could see how being in love would make you disregard the possible consequences to changing the timeline, but when I didn’t even believe that love story, it made me feel even more detached and irritated with Araceli.

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In contrast, watching Araceli unravel the mystery of what was afflicting the town and investigating the secret lab in the woods was much more interesting and a compelling enough hook to keep me turning the page. I couldn’t work the cause behind the supernatural phenomena or what exactly the shady scientists were up to and how it was all related, the author successfully bamboozled me there! I just wish that Araceli’s circle of friends were more well-developed because I couldn’t distinguish one from another – I normally worked out who they were from context when the group was hanging out and exchanging banter, but this obviously wasn’t possible in the action sequences.

The worst part is that Araceli had a best friend that she’d been communicating with online for years before coincidentally moving to her town and this built-in friendship was left to flounder instead of being given the page-time it deserved because Araceli’s interactions with Logan, the boy next door, was prioritized instead! It made no sense to me that the girls were supposedly so close and excited to meet up in real life, but then Araceli had no plans to catch up with her as soon as she arrived in town – it felt like a plot hole that Araceli turned up for her first day of school only to find out it was a public holiday because Eunsoo didn’t mention this for some reason when Araceli said she’d see her at school the next day! It seemed contrived just so that Araceli could meet Logan, which seems unnecessary as he lives right across the road from her.

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When it actually IS the first day of school, instead of arranging to meet at a landmark like the front gate or the library or something that stands out, Eunsoo simply tells her that she’ll be wearing a black hoodie with their favorite band on it. Mobile phones DO exist in this book, but apparently not to facilitate friends catching up, even though that’s the main function of a teenager’s phone! It’s a shame that Eunsoo was set up as a character who would be important at the start because she ended up figuring so little into the plot that she could’ve been removed altogether without affecting anything, which is unfortunately true for a few characters and plot elements in this book that were equally undeveloped.

Overall, this wasn’t for me, but the mystery aspect was fun and quite unique. I also appreciated Araceli being a biracial character and how this was subtly incorporated with micro-aggressions from the kids at school (intentional or not, like Logan mimicking her accent) and bonding with another girl over being the few POC in a predominantly white town.

Personal Rating: 2 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.

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Note: this may not have rocked my world, but these bloggers were more positive, so take my opinion with a grain of salt and try it for yourself. 🙂

Confessions of a YA Reader | Quirky Cat’s Fat Stacks

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy free from Tor Teen via Netgalley for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

13 thoughts on “Book Review – ‘Heartwood Box’ by Ann Aguirre

  1. It seems like a lot is happening in this book. I usually struggle when there is too much going on, like none stop action. Thank you for pointing out some of this stuff. I didn’t think before that it was a Me book but your review confirmed it. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hate to put people off a book, but there’s so much to read out there and if what I’ve said stands out as something that would bother you, then better you know. At least if you end up looking at this later on, you’re forewarned! and thank you ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    • it’s so subjective, which is why I link to reviews from people who loved it so I can point to a different opinion! if you read it, who knows, you might completely disagree and think I’m off my rocker, haha. but a few things bothered me that didn’t make sense and it wasn’t rectified later on, so yeah, wasn’t for me. :/

      I know it’s such a small thing, but I have an internet friend that I chatted to for several years before we met up in real life, and it blows my mind that the main character moved to her BFF’s town and they didn’t arrange to meet up ASAP. they hardly talked at all during the book and there’s me like??? but why bother?!

      Like

  2. Love your review! This book had a lot in it, didn’t it? It was definitely a mash up of things and I think I got through it because I was just like what is going on?! Lol I think I gave it 3 1/2 just because it kept me reading and it was kind of weird and I wanted to see how it would conclude. ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    • thank you! yes, this was just jam-packed full of ideas and it had such potential, which is why I was disappointed it didn’t come together like I hoped. I agree, the mystery was pretty intriguing and that’s why I didn’t give up even when it frustrated me because I had to know what was going on, so the author succeeded there!

      the ending with the hint of the new romance weirded me out, though – it’s like Captain America deciding to date Sharon Carter because she’s Peggy’s niece, if you know what I mean, people aren’t identical because of the person they’re related to, so that had me going lolwut?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was not crazy about her last YA romantic suspense, so I decided to hold off on checking this one out until I saw some reviews. Now I’m glad I resisted, the plot sounds a bit too messy and contrived for my tastes, and given how I had similar issues with her last book, I don’t think this one would be for me either! Sorry it didn’t work out better for you, but thanks for your review, it was very helpful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • if I had to give a one-word description, contrived is exactly what I’d go with. I haven’t read anything else by this author, but I’m not too keen after this experience, especially if you’ve found similar issues with previous books. I’m glad I could shed some light on this for you, just wish I had better news! I think the author has great ideas, but the book needed to be twice as long to do justice to them, or just cut out the time-travel love story and it would work so much better.

      Like

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