Heart-Shaped Bruise – Tanya Byrne

Title – Heart-Shaped Bruise

Author – Tanya Byrne

Published – 10 May 2012

Genre – Contemporary fiction

It’s hard to start this novel without drawing comparisons with other popular titles using the device of a journal to tell a story (I’m thinking particularly of Before I Go To Sleep) but fortunately Tanya Byrne manages to find a new angle.

Strictly speaking though, this isn’t a journal – it’s the notebook of Emily Koll, an inmate of the psychiatric unit of Archway Young Offenders Institution. Koll is 18 and obviously notorious, but for committing a crime which isn’t yet clear. Trapped in the psychiatric unit with a small group of other girls, Koll resents the efforts of Doctor Gilyard to get her to talk about the circumstances that brought her there. But between her sessions with the doctor, her relationships with the other inmates, and the narrative of her notes, we soon find out more.

Unlike other authors, Byrne’s approach is to show us a psychological thriller from the point of view of the perpetrator and not the victim. After Emily’s father is stabbed by Juliet Shaw, the daughter of policeman he has shot dead, her world falls apart. She didn’t know her father was a gangster and that all the privileges she had were from his ill-gotten gains, and that makes her doubt everything she ever knew or felt. But Emily chooses not to be a victim and instead is hell-bent on revenge. When she tracks down Juliet, who has a new identity under witness protection, she herself assumes a false identity to gain Juliet’s friendship, before exacting her revenge.

The story is compelling – the slow unfolding of the events that brought Koll to the Institution, and the gradual revelation of the her real feelings and a hidden vulnerability. So perhaps she isn’t as evil as everyone thinks! I’m guessing that I’m not the target audience for this book – it feels a lot more like a Young Adult title, and that isn’t meant to be a criticism in any way.

Perhaps the ease with which Koll assumes a false identity and manages to maintain it seems to be a little unrealistic, but that’s a small quibble. I did think that some of Koll’s descriptions of her feelings were a little OTT too – but then it’s a while since I was 18! Nevertheless, this is an excellent debut.

Many thanks to Headline for the review copy of this book.

You can see another review of this over at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm.

Score – 4/5

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for a thoughtful and well-written review. This is a really interesting approach to telling a crime story. It’s not easy to pull it off successfully, and I’m glad that in the main, Byrne does. Something for me to look for as I really should broaden my YA horizons I think.

    1. Thank you. I did like the approach – especially after reading a few books where the main character has been the victim. Perhaps I saw it as YA because it wasn’t quite as hard-hitting as it could have been.

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