Book review: The Language of Cherries by Jen Marie Hawkins

Title: The Language of Cherries by Jen Marie Hawkins

Publisher: Owl Hollow Press

Publication date: 11 February 2020

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romance | Fabulism

Page extent: 260 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: When Evie Perez is cut off from everything she loves and forced to move to Iceland for the summer, she takes her canvas and paintbrushes into the picturesque cherry orchard behind her guesthouse. She stains her lips with stolen cherries in the midnight sun and paints a boy she’s never met.

Oskar is startled to discover Evie in his family’s orchard, and even more surprised to see himself on her canvas. Too ashamed to reveal his stutter, he remains silent as Evie returns day after day to paint, spilling confessions she wouldn’t even tell her priest.

As Evie’s life back home unravels, Oskar wants to comfort her with words, but he knows he’s waited too long, so he uses music instead. But when it all comes to the surface, he knows that if Evie can’t forgive him for lying, he may never forgive himself for surviving.

*mild spoilers included in the review*

A slow YA contemporary set in the beautiful and mystical Icelandic landscape, this book is told part narrative, part verse which makes for a beautiful picture and story, with hints of fabulism throughout.

Evie has been dragged to Iceland against her will, forced to leave her friends and possible boyfriend behind to move for her father’s Summer work. In Iceland, she is bitter and angry, but begins to find solace in the local Cherry Orchard she finds, which, along with Oskar, the boy she meets there, begins to inspire her to create magical pieces of art. She paints scenes she dreams of, of people she’s never seen before. They just so happen to be pictures of Oskar’s dead family. Oskar, still griefstricken 5 years after the deaths of his family, freezes when he first meets Evie. Terrified his stutter will push her away, he pretends he doesn’t speak English. Together, they find solace and inspiration in each other as Evie’s relationships with her family deteriorate.

The verse poetry sections, Oskar’s POV, were my favourite parts. The language and poetry is absolutely beautiful, filled with such emotion. It really gives insight into who Oskar is and why he continues with his admittedly stupid decision to pretend he doesn’t speak English. Oskar is clearly still suffering after the death of his family, and it really shows. He struggles to trust and be close with anyone, and his character devleopment over the novel as he grows and begins to live again is really well done.

I did find issues with some of the characters however. Evie is one of those annoyingly stubborn but not really in a good way female characters. Unwilling to believe her grandmother’s dementia, stupid decision after stupid decision causes a lot of pain and grief for her family. She has a complicated relationship with her mother, but it’s one I wish we saw a bit more of. Evie is vehemently angry at her mother, seemingly without much understanding of how it must have felt for her mother to a) have been forced to have a kid she didn’t really want by the father and b) who suffered horrific depression and was hospitalized at one stage for it. Evie seems neither sympathetic nor understanding to the struggles her mother went through. Instead, she idolises her grandmother, which contributes to her inability to see the quickening onset of dementia.

I also found Evie’s father unbearable. He desires to be so controlling over Evie yet never bothers to spend time with her, constantly breaking his promises; alongside his threats to kill Oskar at one stage, despite the fact he literally slept with Evie’s mother out of wedlock then forced her to keep the child because he’s Catholic. The hypocritical energy is strong with this one.

The fabulism was an interesting and mystical thread throughout the book. I loved the cherries and the spells and druids and how they very subtly swam through the plot. It brought such a mystical quality to what otherwise could be just another cishet YA love story.

All in all, the style of writing, particularly the verse sections, were my favourite part of this book, absolutely beautiful writing. However some of the characters annoyed me quite a bit, particularly Evie’s father and Evie herself at times.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

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