Every writer with each novel hones their craft. One of my joys in writing reviews of each of an author’s novels, in the order they’ve been written, is getting to see that development over time. (Meanwhile, my own review-writing skills have developed and changed over the years.) In Non Pratt’s case, Every Little Piece of My Heart showcases how her talents at characterization and particularly perspective have evolved over the years. With each novel, Pratt continues to tinker and imagine and play with how to tell stories from the point of view of diverse teenage characters. The result is invariably entertaining and poignant, and this latest book is no exception.
Every Little Piece of My Heart shares superficial similarities with Unboxed, an earlier novella of Pratt’s. Both books involve a group of teens coming together as a result of the absence of someone common to all their lives. Whereas Unboxed was about recovering a time capsule the main characters had intentionally buried, however, Every Little Piece of My Heart is about discovering secrets and relationships that were, until recently, buried. Sophie is grieving the decay of her best friendship with Freya, who moved to Manchester in the middle of Year 11. She’s hyped to receive a package from Freya, except it’s more of a quest: within her package is another package, addressed to someone else Freya knew, and so on. This game of “pass the parcel” brings these characters together in a way that should be sweet but isn’t, because of course, this is a Non Pratt novel.
Friendship has always been an important motif in Pratt’s work, which is perhaps one of the reasons her novels resonate with me. As an aromantic and asexual person, I am all about friendship being just as valuable and important as romance—and I think this is particularly true for teenagers, for that time in your life when (as I am given to understand) you are often making your first forays into sex/romance and prone to stumbling. Friends are the ones who are there to pick you up and help you figure out all the tough things happening while you are adrift on the sea of hormones and expected grades. Moreover, to me, books that talk about the end of a friendship—the heartbreak that comes with it—are so vital. So much is written about romantic break-ups, but friend break-ups—whether bombastic and sudden or quiet and gradual—deserve time in the spotlight too.
Freya reminds me of Margo from Paper Towns (I haven’t read the book but I enjoyed the movie). Both are subversions of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, and the theme of both stories entails the main characters understanding how they projected their expectations onto this person. Sophie realizes this later in the story, realizes that Freya was always performing—even with her; indeed, Sophie realizes she was performing right back. In this way, although we get flashbacks with and letters from Freya, she is more of an abstraction, an idea rather than a character. She is also the manipulator behind the event that drives this entire plot.
I admire the deftness with which Pratt portrays this manipulation. On the one hand, this is the kind of adventure that is made for a YA novel: lost friend re-enters your life only to send you on a madcap quest that ingeniously helps you find your people. If Pratt had wanted to play this straight, it would have been fun and quirky and probably too sugary for me. Instead, Freya’s ingenious plan backfires, as the main characters resent the way they’ve been manipulated, and the letters she leaves each of them like so many little nuggets of truth and wisdom inspire ire rather than awe and appreciation. I love this, because it just so effectively subverts the movie trope of grand gestures working out perfectly as planned. Freya left, and we don’t ever fully get to hear her story, but her attempt to reach out and touch the lives of these friends one last time does not go as planned. She could have just picked up her phone or computer, called or texted or otherwise messaged everyone. But no, she had to make it a big thing, and the result is much messier and more complicated than she probably ever imagined it would be.
So in this sense, I love the reactions that each character has to their encounter with the others. I love Sophie’s careful and deliberate way of setting out to prove to herself that her chronic illness will not define her. I love Winnie’s reaction to receiving a giant Pride flag as her present from Freya, the complicated relationship she has with her sexuality and her feelings about possibly coming out to others IRL. I love Lucas’ gradual realizations about how he has let others define his role in friendships. And I love Ryan’s slow and silent heartbreak. Finally, because not to mention her would be a crime, I love Sunny, Winnie’s sister and the only character not connected to Freya. Her presence as a foil for everyone else is so delightful, owing to her personality being about three times her stature, and she’s just a wonderful character for everyone else to play off of—at the same time, I like that Pratt gives her an arc as well.
Does Freya’s plan work after all? Do these characters come together? I’m not going to spoil the ending (I love the ending, and particularly Sophie’s ending)—but I will give you the heads up that there is a welcome ambiguity here. It invites the reader not only to draw their own conclusions but to recall what it feels like, that potential hanging in the air when you are about to embark on a new relationship (or rekindle an old one), that hair-tingling sensation of excitement mixed with butterflies in the stomach. At least, I imagine that’s what people feel about romance, because it’s totally what I feel about friendship! I love that Pratt leaves us with Sophie having the option to take one of two paths, because either path is totally valid when we’re talking friendship. Plus, this is a way better Sophie’s choice than that other one!
I want to conclude by discussing the last act of this book and the way Pratt chose to write the scenes therein. Although earlier in the novel we are treated to your conventional “teenage party scene,” the last act is an impromptu day trip, and what I love about it is that Pratt expertly portrays teenagers doing nothing much at all, which is something I would like to see more of in YA. Time passes in this book, conversations happen, clothes are wrecked, but if you pay close attention you quickly notice that this is all happening at the same time that nothing is really happening, and that really reminded me of my adolescence and the way that a day could feel incredibly significant in some ways yet, if someone asked me to look back and recount what I did, I wouldn’t have much of an answer.
For fans of Non Pratt like my unabashed self, Every Little Piece of My Heart builds clearly and triumphantly on the themes and tropes that have percolated throughout her earlier works. From the messiness of real friendships to the fact that we seldom ever truly know someone, especially during the rocky years of adolescence, Every Little Piece of My Heart captures a small yet diverse slice of perspectives as it explores some of the most significant and important parts of adolescent life. I find myself so happy for these characters and what they’ve experienced yet also sad—particularly for Sophie—and my adult self layers atop that a kind of fatalistic awareness that … this is just how life is. For a reader closer to Sophie’s age, that feeling might instead just be one of deep sympathy and close identification. This is a book about realizing that sometimes the people you thought you were closest to will let you down in unimaginably mundane ways, and what you can do to pick up the pieces of yourself and move forward.