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September 25, 2019

Love, Heather, by Laurie Petrou

“Why would anyone read a book instead of watching big people move on a screen? Because a book can be literature.” —Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I thought I knew what I was getting with Laurie Petrou’s new novel Love, Heather, a book so informed by movie tropes—from Heathers to Mean Girls—that it seemed instantly familiar, like something I had read before. A high school setting, a relationship under strain—Stevie and Lottie have been friends since childhood, but they’ve started high school, and everything’s changing. Plus Lottie’s parents are splitting up, which means that Stevie is losing the stability she’d counted on from her friend’s family since her own parents divorced. And Lottie seems distant, intent on new friendships with a clique of girls in their grade, and this tension only magnifies Stevie’s social awkwardness, so that Lottie pushes her further and further away.

And then suddenly Stevie is all alone, cast out of the cool girls’ group, her missteps in navigating a new social order that she still doesn’t understand bringing her bullying and ridicule. She finds some solace in her love of old movies, and on her Youtube channel where she talks about film, but it isn’t enough, and eventually the bullies find her there as well. It seems there is no escaping them.

But then justice arrives in the form of a new friend, Dee, whose brazenness and daring makes Stevie nervous, but also invites her admiration. With Dee by her side, Stevie begins to make new friends, connecting with other misfits who don’t conform to the status quo. And under the influence of the charismatic Dee, and all the movies they’ve seen, the group begin to seek revenge against everyone who has wronged them, the cliquey girls, the entitled jocks. An exhilarating kind of justice, each act marked with a signature, “Love, Heather,” in homage to the Winona Ryder flick. But then things begin to spiral out of control, and there are questions about whether Dee is taking things too far, but do Stevie and her friends have the power to stop her now that the wheels of vengeance are in motion? When does a victim become a perpetrator? The hero the anti-hero? Where do you draw the line?

And then there was a twist, in this conventional-seeming story. A novel that’s billed as YA, and which underlines that such distinctions are kind of irrelevant, or at least uninteresting. Underlining too the message of the book, which is that adults have no idea what’s going in teenagers’ lives, no matter how well-intentioned they are. The twist in this book: I never saw it coming, and it cast the entire story in a new light, and demonstrated that Laurie Petrou is a master of her craft. Funny how this is a novel that’s so informed by film but which is precisely so powerful because it’s a book and does what only a book can do.

Not a novel for the faint of heart, Love, Heather, is dark and troubling, pulls absolutely no punches, but the reader will be rewarded for her bravery. By how the novel itself is a testament to the powers of literature, but also by how Petrou complicates so many contemporary conversations, which is what our discourse needs right now—writers who dare to stare down the darkness and emerge with important questions, instead of the simple answers we’ve been hearing for so long.

One thought on “Love, Heather, by Laurie Petrou”

  1. This sounds like my kind of book!

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