Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak
Sometimes a fine YA novel will take you right back to your own awkward early years and make you groan at your younger self. Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak is a novel that will do just that – for better or for worse.
It’s the last summer before college, and New York native Lucinda – Lu – Charles is having a hard time getting over her long-term ex boyfriend, Leo, who abandoned their relationship once they got their diplomas, and also left her with a huge case of writer’s block and a head filled with questions. Love ties thoroughly in with her work, you see – and her scholarship to NYU is riding on her clearing out her brain; she writes a romance and relationships column titled Brief Chronicles of Another Stupid Heart for an online magazine named Misnomer. Where she once produced reams of creative prose and nonfiction pieces, now she stares at a blinking cursor and can only repeat what she’s overheard of other people’s lives. Her editor, Hafsah, puts the pressure on – the longer Lu goes without submitting a column, Hafsah says, the easier it will be for people to forget her.
Hanging out in a park hoping Leo will show up for their arranged meeting and thus allow her to deliver a speech she’s completely sure will win him back and thus reignite her creativity, Lu meets a cute boy who strikes up a conversation with her. After gently mocking a French couple arguing on the street, they part – and then hours later in a book store, she spies a Latinx girl sobbing during a phone call to a friend; and from the sound of the call she’s apparently ready to drop the boom on her own relationship. When the guy in question turns up, it’s the dude Lu shared a bench with that afternoon, and Lu – smelling a story – follows when the pair of them leave. She witnesses what looks like a break-up, and also finds the wallet the girl has left behind.
Being lost in a quagmire of emotions about her own relationship pushes her toward pitching an article about pre-college break-ups to Hafsah, using Bench Boy and Crying Girl’s relationship as a springboard and using it to explore her own break-up and contrast that with other long-distance relationships that have lasted and those that have not. Hafsah gives her a deadline of Monday and it’s Thursday. Gulp.
To establish a connection, she first makes sort-of-friends with Crying Girl’s neighbor, Grace, using the left-behind wallet as an excuse to make contact, but an accident involving a hot cup of coffee is what gets her into Crying Girl’s apartment. It turns out that Bench Boy (Cal) and Crying Girl (Iris) are having a romantic rough patch. Iris is going to Pepperdine, and she – not believing their high school love will last the long-distance stretch – has pre-emptively ended the relationship. But Iris has, since Lu witnessed the break-up, given Cal a reprieve – they will spend one last summer together as a couple, and then break up before she leaves in August. This provides Lu a perfect ‘in’ for a new story; she will chronicle Cal and Iris’ breakup and use it as fodder for her column. Separately, she courts them into doing the article, but as she spends more time with them, the more she falls into like and friendship with them both – and in love with Cal. Her best friend accuses her of just replacing Leo with Cal and Cal and Iris’ relationship with hers with Leo, but Lu desperately persists. What will she do when Leo throws another monkey wrench into her plans by asking if she’ll take him back? When her admiration of Iris and her painful crush on Cal come into question, Lu is left to decide if she’s falling in love again or just doing a bad job of getting rid of her leftover feelings for Leo.
Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak has characters that feel completely credible as teenagers, though their dialogue doesn’t often match this feeling – and on occasion sounds a little too much like it’s coming from a singular source. Sometimes it does feel a little stagey, a little too self-consciously monologue heavy to be plausible – but there are many, many funny or thought-provoking lines in the book (My favorite is Hafsah saying she wants “more like a Carrie Bradshaw thing” from Lu when they first meet. “The quarterback?” asks a confused Lu.) What is reliably teenagerish is the self-centered, obsessed way Lu handles her break up with Leo; if you’ve been eighteen or known an eighteen year old, you will remember that kind of mopey, spiraling, self-centered agony of poorly processing the death of a first love. You will recognize Leo, a songwriter forever adding to what Lu calls “the R&B album of their relationship”, telling Lu that he wrote a song for her called “Fire Escape Boners” as a perfectly romantic title and gesture at eighteen, and nod your head as Lu agrees. The author’s way of showing Leo and Lu’s relationship through past editions of Lu’s column is ultimately interesting.
I loved Iris, who seemed funny and sophisticated, though I was less enamored of somewhat wishy-washy Cal. There are some great little minor characters; I loved Starla, Lu’s friend, who works at the Strand bookshop; I loved the details of Lu’s household and the split custody situation between her travelling father and take-no-nonsense, chipper mom; Lu’s relationship with her busy working mom in particular is so perfect, and so sweet. I liked Lu’s best friend, Pete, who calls her on her BS nonstop.
Best of all is the author’s ability to conjure life in sweaty, gritty New York City in the heat of deep summertime.
Lu is going to be an acquired taste for some readers, but if you’ve ever survived heartbreak you’re going to find yourself sympathizing with her on some level. In spite of its problems, Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak compels and entertains.