Book Review : Jennifer Hillier - Jar of Hearts (2018)
Pre-Order Jar of Hearts here (will be released on June 12th)
In every story, there's a hero and a villain. Sometimes one person can be both.
The difference between a good and a great novel is simple: the latter speaks to you on a personal level. Both need to be entertaining and give its audience a good time, but in order to be remembered, a novel (or any story, really) needs to provide a genuine emotional experience *. Canadian author Jennifer Hillier is known for writing solid psychological thrillers and serial killer novels, but her upcoming book Jar of Hearts is going to change the way readers think about her. This one is going to follow you long after you've read it, people.
Jar of Hearts is the story of Georgina Shaw, once a popular and carefree teenagers, who now lives with the weight of her best friend Angela's disappearance. In the fourteen years since the drama happened, she's become a successful executive for a Seattle pharmaceutical firm and is contemplating settling down with her fiancé **.
But everything changes when Angela's body is finally discovered and law enforcement gets a hold of her ex-boyfriend Calvin James, who... doesn't have just Angela on his resume. Both are condemned to jail, but Georgina strikes a deal to help incriminate Calvin: 5 years of imprisonment. It sounds like enough for her to start her life over again, but Calvin breaks out from prison before she can contemplate freedom again...
So, Georgina Shaw is, by far, the best protagonist Jennifer Hillier's ever written. Because she clearly was an accessory to Angela Wong's murder. The novel doesn't even try to hide that from you. Despite the complicated circumstances of Angela's death, she lives with a devouring guilt over her actions and, most important, staying silent all these years. And when she gets out, she's also facing tremendous adversity from people in her hometown, who don't want her to settle into her old life again. Georgina is fighting for her soul and I haven't even started talking about the escaped serial killer who may or may not want to settle business with her.
Jar of Hearts is challenging and morally complex in ways thrillers usually aren't. Georgina is in a weird freakin' ethical place and she's forced into action by the guilt she feels of being associated with Calvin James. Should she feel responsible for a world that rejects her? Can you evolve past being involved with your best friend's murder? How should we treat people convicted of a major crime, who served their sentences and are looking to reintegrate society? These are difficult questions that Jar of Hearts asks by painting Georgina in a positive light despite her actions without making excuses for her. That's why I believe Jar of Hearts is going to be the talk of the town when it hits the shelves in June.
I'm throwing flowers all over the place here, but Jar of Hearts has its problems. The only major one being Kaiser Brody ***, the detective who arrested Georgina and the secondary protagonist of Jar of Hearts, is... kind of flat. He does very little except advancing the plot. It's too bad because he's set up to be an interesting character: he was that typical horny friend in high school who was friendzoned by the hot girls. So, there was a cool, obsessive subplot to run with that, but Kaiser has no edge at all. He is both the white knight and the word of law. Boring!
Fortunately, Kaiser is not the star of the show. Georgina is. And Jar of Hearts is a lot busier with the psychological and the ethical question of seeking redemption after being accessory to murder than it is with its own serial killer. It's for the best, believe me. Jar of Hearts is gritty, grimy and tense in a way Jennifer Hillier's novel's have never been before. It's a visceral experience that is served in the most accessible way possible. It will entertain the hell out of you, but it'll also make you question your values and perhaps even make you feel smarter.
* That's why I never gave a shit about the Avengers movies, for example. Caped vigilantes are cool and all, but how does their bi-annual convention reflects on my life? It doesn't.
** Who's also the firm's boss.
*** What a great bro name.