|INSTRUCTIONS FOR A BROKEN HEART
Every so often I'll read a book that doesn't seem to match the back cover/inside flap pitch, and this is one such book. While the summary would have you believe it's a love story orchestrated (or at least helped) by the instructions from Jessa's best friend. This isn't quite true. Not only is it not a love story, but it quickly becomes clear that Jessa - and the friends around her - have some misgivings about the instructions. Instead, this is a story of Jessa trying to get over her heartbreak, sure, but also figure out why it happened and who, away from her everyday life, she really is and wants to be.
Jessa's pain, right from the outset, is huge and overwhelming. Unfortunately, these emotions are told more than shown -- I never truly felt Jessa's pain and maybe part of this is because while Sean is a huge force in Jessa's thoughts, he's really not very present in the book. We get her thoughts of him (sort of) and her best friend's angry thoughts, but I never felt that Sean's character or their relationship was very dimensional. He felt like a placeholder and their relationship felt, sadly, like a sort of stock "first love," which prevented it from having much depth or resonance. Her hurt just never clicked with me even as those around her echo how hard it must be for her to be on a school trip with her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. I consistently felt like I was missing something.
The strength of this novel lies not in its emotions or the actual catalyst of Sean's betrayal, but in the setting of Italy and the group of people that Jessa is with. It's clear from the beginning that her drama club -- students and teachers -- act as something of a large family together. While Jessa has her friend Tyler by her side the entire time, there are also glimpses of her relationships with other students in the class as well as both teachers on the trip. This gives more insight into Jessa's character and life as we get snippets of what her classmates think of her and how they react to the various instructions she's following. In the end, this was more a story of Jessa finding out what, not who, she wanted. There were aspects of the book that felt underdeveloped; I would have liked more personality when it came to Sean and Jessa's best friend and, in many ways, Jessa herself. Many times during this book I wondered why Jessa continued following the instructions as they didn't seem to be helping as much as they were meant to and the extreme anger that they were written with did not endear me to her best friend. There were subplots, usually concerning Jessa and her best friend, that held so much promise and disappointed me when they seemed unresolved by the end.
There's a lot of beauty in this book; the Italian setting seems written so well for Jessa's personal journey, and the closeness of the drama club was refreshing. The characters kept me interested and I did enjoy the book, but many aspects didn't tie together so well, leaving the overall effect to feel somewhat frayed and scattered.