“We question each other’s reality; we make each other look into things just that little bit deeper.”
Thank you very much to NineStar Press for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Sweethearts by Gemma Gilmore is an adorable novel that discusses some of the most important issues facing teens today. From bullying, to discovering one’s sexuality, to teen pregnancy, to finishing high school, this novel doesn’t shy away from the hard topics – in fact, it normalises these issues.
When seventeen-year-old Ingrid Harper realizes she may not have the talent to pursue a scholarship for the most prestigious art school in Australia, she turns to pink hair dye as a distraction.
Her new hair captures the attention of a fellow art student, Kat, who introduces Ingrid to the LGBT clubbing scene, and although Ingrid enjoys partying with her new friend, she becomes caught up in confusion about her sexuality. Her fear is overwhelming—she can’t think about anything else.
Until her best friend, Summer, reveals that she is pregnant.
As her best friend faces the realities of being pregnant at seventeen, Ingrid is shown the true definition of courage. It motivates her to come out about her sexuality—she likes girls. Only girls. Now she just has to work out what that means for the other areas of her life.
Sweethearts is one of the most realistic YA novels I’ve read in a long time. It features so many important issues and talks about them in a positive light. There’s a lot of discussion – especially in Australia – about the importance of university and how your life is most likely over if you don’t attend/don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life at the wise-old age of 18.
Gilmore talks about this a lot in the novel through the MC Ingrid. Ingrid is an artist and wants nothing more than to be accepted into RMIT’s prestigious art program, and the anxiety and insecurity she feels about university is something all teens can relate to.
Ingrid was a great protagonist. The entire novel is her journey of self-discovery, with snippets into the life of her best friend, Summer, who discovers she is pregnant in her final year of high school.
Ingrid starts the novel as a self-conscious girl, who bullies the girl she has a crush on. Then she dyes her hair, becomes friends with a girl from art class who takes her to a lesbian club, and Ingrid starts to acknowledge her sexuality, which she had kept smothered down for so long. While I didn’t like her at the beginning of the novel – as she is a bully – I really began to empathise with her the more she became her authentic self.
I especially enjoyed reading about Ingrid’s romantic relationships and the exploration of her sexuality: while she has a strong crush on a girl called Amber, she and her art class friend, Kat, become ‘make-out’ buddies (you know the word I mean to use here). I for one was shipping Ingrid with Kat, and didn’t like Amber at all, but I really appreciated the way female sexuality was normalised, and, when it comes to queer female sexuality, not fetishised at all.
I really appreciated the way teen pregnancy was cast in a positive manner – it’s the first time I’ve read about pregnancy like this. While the novel doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the difficulties that Summer and her boyfriend will go through, it also shows that their lives aren’t over and they can still be happy, still attend uni, and live the lives of normal 18 year olds. She wasn’t shunned; her decision to keep the baby was accepted. It’s such a hopeful message.
The writing was at times repetitive, but for the most part it flowed naturally. I link the repetitiveness to the fact that the writing is almost stream-of-conscious-like, from Ingrid’s perspective. I was, however, confused by the ending of the novel. I just felt like it was unnecessary and didn’t relate much to the story or plot.
All in all, Sweethearts was a lovely, important debut novel from an Aussie author who has a long career ahead of her. I can’t wait to read more from Gemma Gilmore. Definitely get your hands on a copy of this novel when it’s published!