No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith is about an extremely troubled teenage girl that goes to live with relatives in Japan and ends up slipping backwards in time to 1862.
I had so many mixed feelings about this book. It was extremely well written, I loved the time travel aspect, it was full of great characters, and the plot was sound. However, the main character Reiko was so full of hatred that it made me very uncomfortable. I’m not talking about typical teenage angst or “hatred” that is usually found in YA, but a deeply rooted and often disturbing hatred and anger.
There are a few reasons for Reiko’s hatred and anger, one being her ex-girlfriend, and another being her brother. There were some things that I thought Reiko was definitely overreacting to, and other things that I felt were quite justified.
This book deals with some pretty heavy issues, such as cutting and suicide. I want to make it clear that it is not these topics that made me uncomfortable, but rather the all consuming hatred Reiko had not only for her tormentors but for absolutely everyone around her.
However, there were plenty of other characters that I absolutely loved. Kenji was one of my favorites, I loved his kind nature. I also really loved Jiro, a samurai from the time travel portion of the book. As the book progressed and Reiko met Jiro she definitely started to change and let go of some of the hatred she had been holding on to.
The other major character is Miyu, the girl from the past whose life Reiko takes over while she is in the past. Miyu is even more vengeful and hateful then Reiko, but Miyu’s hatred helped to bring Reiko out of hers in a very natural way.
The plot of A Darkly Beating Heart was one of my favorite things about this novel. The plot is extremely well thought out and interesting. Smith seamlessly merges the storyline of the present with that of the past. She created a wonderful backstory for the village, Miyu, and the reason behind the time travel. And I loved how detailed the time travel portions of the book were, as well as the times in the present.
Another thing that I enjoyed was how natural the growth in Reiko’s character was. She definitely grew as a person throughout her experience and learned to be comfortable with herself. There was no miracle turning point or change in Reiko’s character, but instead there was a slow change throughout the novel. The ending was especially well done. I loved that things didn’t magically become perfect for Reiko in the end. The ending was very realistic, especially considering the issues that Reiko had been grappling with and her growth throughout the book.
Overall I absolutely loved the plot of this book, the setting, the time travel, the characters, and the flawless writing style. The only real problem I had, as I mentioned before, was Reiko’s deeply rooted hatred throughout the beginning and middle portion of the book. However, It is definitely a testament to Smith’s writing that she was able to write Reiko’s hate in such a realistic and powerful way.
Unfortunately, despite all of the other things that I loved about this book I can only give it 3.5/5 stars. This is purely because I almost wasn’t able to push past the first 2/4 of the book due to Reiko’s anger and hatred. I am absolutely glad I did though, because the book got so much better.
If you do pick this one up and have a similar struggle getting past the first portion I definitely recommend that you push forward, because it did get so much better and quite interesting.
Thank you Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan, for sending me this book in exchange for a honest review.