The Hearts We Sold, by Emily Lloyd-Jones, was actually the book I received in the August OwlCrate, and with all the deals with demons, supernatural creatures, and otherworldly circumstances, this book was perfect for the August theme of “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. This young adult urban fantasy novel is about Dee Moreno, a young woman who lives in a version of our world where demons openly exist and are happy to make deals with humans in exchange for one of their limbs as payment. Feeling trapped when Dee finds out her scholarship for her boarding school has been pulled and not wanting to return to a home filled with alcoholism and oppression, Dee ends up making a deal with a demon called the Heart-monger who, instead of taking limbs, takes his client’s hearts–and he particularly prefers young hearts. Dee ends up a part of the demon’s troop of Heartless, who he occasionally sends on missions into supernatural voids where they are expected to destroy he voids in order to keep otherworldly beings from entering into the human world and destroying it. Along the way, Dee falls for one of her Heartless companions, James, a messy young artist, faces her personal and familial struggles, and deals with the ramifications of living life without a heart.
I absolutely loved The Hearts We Sold, and there are numerous reasons why I enjoyed this book so much, so I’m just going to break them down into categories to make it as easy as possible for your reading pleasure—and don’t worry, I will keep it as spoiler-free as possible!
I really liked the way Lloyd-Jones created the setting and the world in this book. The world in this novel is just like our own, with the exception of the open existence of demons, which no one really seems to question. This isn’t some over the top alternate dimension or anything like that—it’s our world, the one we live in every day, with a little bit of a supernatural twist. And the best part about the supernatural twist is that it’s very believable and the author does an excellent job of presenting it in a way that makes it easy to suspend your disbelief. I loved how realistic and even sometimes down-played it all was, how demons were integrated as a regular part of lives. One of my favorite details was when it’s mentioned that deals with demons got more popular when celebrities started making deals with demons—leaving people wondering which actresses with prosthetic limbs traded them for Oscars—and that the rest of people seemed to follow suit after this.
This felt so genuine and so representative of what would really happen in real life. I also think it spoke a little bit to the way our society operates and thinks about things, and how easily we can come to accept them if given the right circumstances.
Characters & Character Development
OMG. I loved the characters in this book. Seriously. I fell so in love with these characters, especially Dee and Dee’s roommate, Gremma.
“Let’s get three things out of the way. First, you make fun of my name and I make your life miserable—my father wanted a boy named Greg and my mom wanted a ballerina named Emma. So they compromised. Second, I like girls. Third, I have an antique set of surgical scalpels hidden under my mattress. If you have a problem with any of these facts, you should say something now.”
Gremma is fierce, unapologetic, a little weird (she likes to vivisect teddy bears in her free time), and a total badass—which is one of my favorite types of characters. At some points in the book, I found myself so thankful that Dee had a badass friend like Gremma who, despite the fact that she demanded answers and disclosure from Dee, was willing to go to bat for her at a moment’s notice.
And I mean really go to bat for her. Like, busted out a fire axe from her purse go to bat for her.
“And that was when Gremma reached into her overly large purse and withdrew a fire axe. She hefted it over her shoulder. In her red leather jacket, she might have been Little Red Riding Hood—a Red who carried an ax and wore wolf pelts as accessories.”
Why don’t we all have a Gremma in our lives? We should be so lucky.
“Dee woke early on Saturday and stood next to Gremma’s bed. Gremma rolled over, saw her roommate less than twelve inches from her nose and, to her credit, did not flinch or even gasp. She simply blinked once and said, ‘Paranormal emergency?’”
But despite the fact that Gremma was my favorite character, I loved all of the characters in this book and I thought that for the most part, the character development was really well done. I really felt like I knew Dee and James and Gremma, especially. For the first two-thirds of the book or so, I wasn’t sure if we were going to get much development for the character of Cora, and I feared she might end up just being the straight-laced, no-nonsense stereotype of a girl, with no dimension or depth, but later in the book, I was pleasantly surprised to see that we got to learn a little more about her and see her really become more human to the reader.
“Nothing comes for free. We just don’t know what it’ll cost.”
I also really enjoyed seeing supportive female friendships and young women who were different from each other, but still had respect for each other and took care of each other (with the exception of Dee and Cora’s relationship, which was very guarded, but that felt as if it played into Cora’s character and personality somewhat. And despite the fact that they weren’t BFFs, they still respected and took care of each other). It’s really good to see YA that doesn’t have a bunch of girl-on-girl hate.
I really, really enjoyed reading the romance between Dee and James in this book. It felt really genuine and realistic, it wasn’t silly or over-the-top, and it was also just really cute.
I really liked that the relationship wasn’t insta-love (in fact, when Dee first meets James she thinks he is a homeless man and offers him money for the bus. Even after learning her mistake, she consistently refers to him as a hobo-hipster, which just cracks me up), and it wasn’t based on just looks or some mysterious outpouring of sexiness that just radiates off the characters for no specific reason. It was based on genuinely liking each other. There was no insta-love, but there was insta-intrigue…they right away wanted to know more about each other. And I think that is way more realistic and a way more believable and solid base for a relationship, in both fiction and real life.
“She thought she loved him. This boy with freckled feet and paint-smudged hands. This boy who played the world off as a joke, but took others’ suffering seriously. This boy who looked at her and never saw a broken girl—just a girl.”
And while we’re on the topic of relationships, I just want to say that I really like that this book promoted safe sex. Not only do characters discuss condoms, they also openly admit when they are not virgins and disclose to their partners that they’ve had STD testing.
Fairytale & Horror References
“This was how normal people survived their own fairytales.
They became their own kind of monster.”
No, but really, the references in this book were, in my opinion, totally off the chain. I’m going to be honest with you here (lol like that’s anything new…I’m always honest with y’all), when I first started reading the book and it mentions that Dee was a big reader of fairytales as a kid, I wasn’t sure if I would be into the fairytale references, as YA is saturated with fairytale references and I didn’t want to see a repeat of something else I’ve read. But Emily Lloyd-Jones did not disappoint me; in fact, she converted me. The references to fairytales (see Gremma’s comparison to Little Red Riding Hood, above, for one amazing example) and classic horror literature like the work of H.P. Lovecraft were expertly utilized throughout as a way to help both the characters and the readers process what the heartless were going through and help them come to terms with what the world was like, and I really enjoyed it. They were not used in a cheesy way at all, and I was really happy to see that. For example, when Dee is rereading Snow White in her and James’s search for answers:
“People believed in the supernatural back then,” said Dee. “Like werewolves and witches and all that. The queen could’ve been a demon, but over the centuries, the retelling of the story was muddled because modern people don’t believe in the supernatural.”
I really liked this use of the fairytale aspect because in studying the classic story, Dee was not only able to use the story to help understand her life, she was also able to use the events of her own life to look at the story in a different way—and really, isn’t that what reading is all about?
Plus, I liked this reference because—again, I won’t lie—the demon’s method of removing and replacing hearts while humans go on living really reminded me of Regina from “Once Upon a Time”.
This is a big one. And I can see how some people might not like this, because they might not be able to identify with it or really see where Dee is coming from, but I think the parent-child relationship illustrated in this novel and the whole storyline with Dee’s family is not only very well done, but very important. Like many aspects of the novel, the storyline and relationship with Dee’s family felt very real and genuine, which helped bring it to life and really, really helped me sympathize with Dee and her desire to get away, to escape, and to live her life more happily at school.
But aside from that, I really think it is so important to address familial relationships like this one, and here’s why:
Dee herself, when James asks her, “What did they do to you?” says, “Nothing, really. That’s the worst part. It was all little stuff. They never beat me or starved me.”
And this is a common perception and a really common way that people minimize or even dismiss damaging relationships of all sorts: by saying that it could be worse, or that it isn’t so bad. By implying, or even directly stating, that if your parents (since that’s the example in this book) aren’t pummeling you with their fists or locking you in a basement or something, that it’s not that bad. That you’re fine.
And that’s simply not the case. Too often we forget that just because someone isn’t physically abusive or just because something isn’t the worst case scenario, that doesn’t mean that their insensitive actions and their poor life choices aren’t damaging to you, emotionally and mentally. And I think a lot of readers, especially young readers, will be able to see themselves and their lives reflected in this type of relationship—this kind of slow burn, disrespectful relationship that breaks you down from the inside out—and in Dee’s feelings about it.
I think The Hearts We Sold also does a good job of illustrating the damage addiction can cause on a parent-child relationship when someone refuses to acknowledge or properly address the issue. I’m not saying every kid is going to go out selling their hearts to demons—let’s not take me that literally—but Dee’s feelings about it are clear.
“You’re an addict. You could have been my father. But you could never be both, not at the same time…if you ever want to change that…well. You know where I am.”
I can’t stress it enough, that’s really important to address, and I’m glad Lloyd-Jones did it, and I hope young adults (or anyone) find some sort of solace in that.
The Writing Itself
And finally, the writing itself in this novel is just so well done. Emily Lloyd-Jones has a beautiful writing style, a relatable voice, and some truly gorgeous turns of phrase throughout the novel that I really had to admire, and that I think will have a lasting impact on me.
“We’re all just moments and most of us don’t matter. We study less than one percent of humanity in our history books…I just want to matter.”
“The food was too oily and salty, and the coffee was so sharp it made her teeth hurt. But the discomfort was the best kind—she sipped the horrible coffee and felt more alive than she had in months.”
But Sam…did you have any dislikes?
That I didn’t have this book in my life sooner????
No, but in all seriousness, at this point, I’d really be nitpicking if I were to come up with something I truly disliked about this book.
So, to wrap things up: you should read this book. Yes. It is amazing. I loved it. I give it 5 out of 5 stars, and I highly recommend it.
If you love YA, if you love the supernatural, and if you love the complexity of relationships and the human heart and emotions, I think you will love this book. This may be one of my new favorites and it definitely stole a little piece of my heart (because, as the demon says, we young people give our hearts away so easily…)
Has anyone else read The Hearts We Sold yet? What did you think? Did you sell your heart to it, like I did? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3
(Not a real heart in the pictures above, obvi. Not actually selling my heart to a demon. No worries.)