Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Crooked Lane Books, via Netgalley for an honest review.
Genre: YA/Contemporary/Mental Health
Stevie never meant for things to go this far. When she and Dee–defiant, bold, indestructible Dee–started all this, there was a purpose to their acts of vengeance: to put the bullies of Woepine High School back in their place. And three months ago, Stevie believed they deserved it. Once her best friend turned on her, the rest of the school followed. Stevie was alone and unprotected with a target on her back. Online, it was worse.
It was Dee’s idea to get them all back with a few clever pranks, signing each act Love, Heather–an homage to her favorite 80’s revenge flick. Despite herself, Stevie can’t help getting caught up in the payback, reveling in every minute of suffering. And for a while, it works: it seems the meek have inherited the school.
But when anonymous students begin joining in, punishing perceived slights with increasingly violent ferocity, the line between villain and vigilante begins to blur. As friends turn on each other and the administration scrambles to regain control, it becomes clear: whatever Dee and Stevie started has gained a mind–and teeth–of its own. And when it finally swallows them whole, one will reemerge changed, with a plan for one final, terrifying act of revenge.
“The high school cafeteria. The great leveler of high school movies. It’s where the entire mass of beauties and weirdos come together to eat and do so much more: try to fit in, wish lunch would end, laugh with friends or stare at people they have crushes on. It is universally different and the same…”
“Nothing really seems to be happening, but everything matters.”
Things at Woepine high school have gotten out of control. What started as a few harmless pranks to get back at few bullies and ruthless popular kids, quickly turned into a full-on war where anyone could be next. It wasn’t just the Haves vs. the Have Nots anymore, anyone can be a target and anyone could be taken down. But things weren’t supposed to go this far. Dee said that they just needed to be taught a lesson. That once they knew what it felt like to be cast aside and stepped on, that it would end. But Dee took things too far, and Stevie let her. But when Stevie finally becomes the target of a callous prank at a party, it is everyone who will feel the force of this final act of revenge.
“No one will tell. No one says anything.
I didn’t do anything, they’re thinking.
They did everything.
They did nothing.”
This Heathers re-imagining shares a theme with the 1988 film of taking down bullies and giving them a taste of their own medicine, but that’s where the similarities end. Love, Heather is a gritty story about the complicated workings of teenage life in high school, and what drives a human to unspeakable acts when threatened or cast out by their peers. It touches on incredibly important issues of bullying, rape culture, social media witch hunts and the effects of social isolation. I came into this story expecting a lighthearted contemporary packed with drama and some epic payback, but what I got was a punch to the gut and a wicked threat to my tear ducts.
“The only thing this school has ever made me feel is different. Weird. A Freak. I tried to fit in, and then I tried to change that place, and neither worked. And so, I’ll do things my way. I am an artist. A Maker. I’m not like anyone else. I am different.”
For most of this book, I was reveling in the creative pranks that went from juvenile to borderline felony-worthy. I love an underdog story. One where a quiet or less socially-inclined individual (or individuals) rises up to put an arrogant bully in their place. To show them what it feels like to have their physical and spiritual identity shredded to pieces because it doesn’t fit into a specific social construct. It’s a feeling most of us can identify with and have experienced, so naturally, I love when the “Weirdo” or “loner” rises up.
But let me tell you, this book goes from “Tuesday afternoon read” to “sitting in your room alone, staring off into the darkness for hours contemplating your feelings” really quickly.
Throughout the story there are little hints as to how our main character, Stevie, feels about her friends and her home life. Her parents are divorced and she lives with her mother, who she feels is a close friend to her. They would spend so much time together watching movies and talking, and when her mother suddenly gets a new boyfriend, Stevie is brushed to the side. At home, she feels forgotten and isolated. Gone are her coveted mother-daughter moments of bonding. But to make matters worse, Stevie’s best friend turns on her as well. Lottie and her go from being inseparable, to barely speaking, in yet another case of Stevie being left behind. Lottie is inducted into a crowd of more popular kids, but they deem Stevie to be less than worthy of a position among them. They begin to bully Stevie, and Lottie sits back and does nothing to defend her friend. Stevie is left alone with no one to turn to, and no one to have her back.
“I try to be myself, but no one wants that.”
But when Dee enters the picture, everything changes. Dee is everything that Stevie isn’t. She is sure of herself and her beliefs. Her convictions are strongly rooted inside her and she speaks her mind. She is fearless, strong, assured, alluring and infectious. And she sees Stevie and takes her under her wing, giving her a hand to hold onto. A voice to speak through and a friend to confide in.
“I hid from you, but you found me.”
She gives Stevie the confidence to take charge and make a difference in her life, and so together, they begin the “Love, Heather” movement: a series of pranks that are left with a message saying “Love, Heather”, to those who have hurt others or deserve a little payback. And just as fast, other kids in the school begin adopting the signature and performing their own acts of rebellion against the people who have wronged them. Eventually, the entire school is flipped upside down and nobody is safe.
It feels like this author dipped their hands into my heart and head and pulled out every spec of heartbreak, fear and social guideline that I ever found myself in. Laurie Petrou perfectly showcases the strange nuances in teenage life. The pressure to feel included and seen by your peers. The irrational importance of high school etiquette of what to say, think, and wear. She highlights the minuscule things we would latch onto and obsess over – a strategically placed period in a text or seeing someone from your school and pretending you don’t know each other. The struggles to fit in and the awkward encounters in this story feel so real and raw, and it left me feeling anxious with flashbacks from my own experiences in high school.
Even if you have never seen or heard of the movie Heathers, I beg you to read this book. Give it to a teenager or a sibling, or just read it yourself and basque in the memories of how torturous teenage life was. But above all, remember this message and speak up when others are being bullied.
Sometimes all someone needs is a knowledge that they matter.