Grade: 2.8 stars out of 5
Jessa is a busy girl with a plan, but does that plan include a boyfriend? When boyfriend Sean cheats on Jessa, best friend Carissa is there to cheer her up. Sorta. Perhaps the trip to Italy and a cute boy will help Jessa.In many ways I’m torn on Instructions for a Broken Heart. With its many praises and awards I’ve set the bar high for Culbertson. This is the second novel I’ve read by Culbertson and while Instructions for a Broken Heart was better than the first, it still lacked substance for me. It was still quite good with so much room for potential. Instructions for a Broken Heart could have been a favorite summer contemporary read: redemption and personal growth, bittersweet romance, and a gorgeous setting.
Instructions for a Broken Heart was too short of a novel for me for all the subjects it touched. There were too many unfinished businesses for many of the characters for me to be left satisfied. I loved the beginning and the middle and the climaxing explosive Jessa had, but I was uninspired by the ending. Coming out of it I felt that Culbertson should have left the romance alone and focused on Jessa just healing.
When I first read the synopsis for Instruction for a Broken Heart, I immediately thought of 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. Seeing as how I never read the book (lightly skimmed then passed it on), this plot was still very new to me. I found the idea to be endearing and motivating where the best friend can uplift the main character’s mood even across the ocean. And with another best friend to help guide the main character and to explain the reasoning behind each instructions, it was to a fool-proof plan. That was until I read the book. Culbertson juggled too many things.
SPOILER: The confession of the best friend, the kiss with the teacher; the break up and hook up of Natalie (the girl who Jessa’s boyfriend cheated with); the nasty wife of the other school’s chaperone; the dashing boy who had trouble in school; the other boy who sort of hovered in the background only to come in the last minute, etc. The list goes on and on about what the novel touched on. It was too much for this little book since all these characters were so one-dimensional. I could only imagine reasons/motives/the emotional guilt each one of the side characters held, but I was never shown aside from a sentence or two. By the time I started to connect to them they were gone.
It’s so frustrating when the author has so many great ideas but then I’m not connecting. Less, in this case, is more. Sticking with just one or two problems for an almost 300 page novel and focusing on that to flesh everything out would have been better.
Published: 2011 May 1; paperback
Source: review from Sourcebooks
Why did you chose Italy for the backdrop of the story instead of, say, France or England?
In my second year of teaching, I took 16 students to Italy with another teacher friend of mine. We had an amazing trip. I’ve always wanted to go back to Italy and when I thought about writing a book set in another country, I immediately went to my journal from Italy and started flipping through it. Something about the colors of Italy, the light there – it’s different. It’s transformative. I just knew it would make the right backdrop for Jessa’s own artistic and personal awakening.
Were you part of a drama club when you were in school?
I was a big drama nerd in high school. And I taught high school theatre for eight years. There is something about the community of a theatre group – I just love how close everyone becomes working together on weekends, after school, long evenings. It does become a big family…often a big, dysfunctional family, but a family. I miss it sometimes.
What's your favorite part of a play? The acting, the costumes, the mechanics of a play, etc.?
I’m a writer so the script is always really important to me. I have to love the pacing of a play, the energy of the words. But I also really, really liked being a director. I directed a lot of shows those years I was teaching drama and there was something quite magical about the page to stage process…taking the words on a page and ending up with a finished, polished play at the end. Writing a novel has a bit of the same energy – taking a thread of an idea and fleshing it out until it becomes its own entity.
And because I'm reading classics this semester, what is your favorite classic?
Classics…hmmm. Well, I’m a big Shakespeare girl. I absolutely love Hamlet (it always seems to make its way into my novels). Obviously, I love A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce which is featured in Instructions for a Broken Heart. I love his language in that book, the way his character just splays his heart out on the page and all that conflict between the “right” thing to do and what he truly wants to do as an artist. I love that book.
Spring is almost here! Any plans for spring cleaning or gardening?
My six year old daughter is redoing her room into the colors she wants (as opposed to what we painted it before she was born). We’re having fun sorting through her stuff and letting her get rid of the things that she’s outgrown and make room for her “big girl” things. I’m loving working with her on that project (even if it’s pulling on my heart a bit to bid farewell to the butter yellow walls).
Thanks so much for having me on your blog!