Book Title: This Rebel Heart
Author: Katherine Locke
Release Date: April 5th, 2022
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, LGBTQ+
My rating: 5/5 Stars
A tale set amid the 1956 Hungarian revolution in post-WWII Communist Budapest.
In the middle of Budapest, there is a river. Csilla knows the river is magic. During WWII, the river kept her family safe when they needed it most–safe from the Holocaust. But that was before the Communists seized power. Before her parents were murdered by the Soviet police. Before Csilla knew things about her father’s legacy that she wishes she could forget.
Now Csilla keeps her head down, planning her escape from this country that has never loved her the way she loves it. But her carefully laid plans fall to pieces when her parents are unexpectedly, publicly exonerated. As the protests in other countries spur talk of a larger revolution in Hungary, Csilla must decide if she believes in the promise and magic of her deeply flawed country enough to risk her life to help save it, or if she should let it burn to the ground.
Initially, two things attracted me to This Rebel Heart: that gorgeous cover, and the fact that it was set in a part of history I’d read little about. I’ve read so many historical fiction novels regarding World War II and the Holocaust, but never any about the aftermath of the war, or any of Hungary’s struggles. Because of this, there were a few times I became confused about the sequences of events, but it inspired me to do my own research about the time period, and I hope to read it again one day with new knowledge.
This was a beautiful and heartbreaking read. The world in This Rebel Heart is completely devoid of color. There are so many metaphors and symbolism this choice provides, and it added an interesting and unique look to the world. It helped tell the narrative of the time period and the struggles of Hungary and its people. This choice was so smart, and I cannot praise it enough. There’s so much I could say about this plot point, but I don’t want to go into too much detail in fear of spoiling.
Something interesting about This Rebel Heart was a lot of the events that took place were either historically accurate or heavily based on real life events; however, it also incorporated magical realism. The main character, Csilla, was heavily connected to the magic showcased in the book, as well as with the angel of death Azriel, who’s a big part of the plot. Magical realism is usually hit or miss for me, but for this one, I’m happy to say it was a hit! The incorporation of the river’s magic added even more layers and depth to an otherwise already intricate and detailed plot. And even though without the incorporation of this, it still would have been effective, the magical undertones really brought home the point of the story.
Csilla, Azriel, and Tamás, the three main characters, are very compelling and so interesting to read about. Even though the three of them are brought together through tragedy and political unrest, you can’t help but root for them and wish for a happy ending, even if it seems impossible. Their dynamic was so endearing and sweet. At first, I thought it was going to be a love triangle, which I was upset about, because I am not a fan of that trope. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the three of them came together romantically! It made perfect sense for them, even in the time period they lived in. They were all drawn to each other, connected by fate, and so it made sense that they all fell in love with each other. I do, however, wish we’d gotten Tamás’s point of view. I know most of the chapters were written in Csilla’s perspective with only a few sections from Azriel here and there, but I would’ve loved to personally experience Tamás’s thoughts and motivations, especially surrounding Csilla and Azriel.
There are so many wonderful plot lines and character arcs in This Rebel Heart, but one of my favorite parts of the story is how much of a slow burn it is. It would’ve been so easy to make this a non-stop action book, depicting different parts of the war, but the use of strong emotions and the development of the people’s will slowly building was so much more effective. We got to know these characters intimately and see how the state of the world was affecting their lives. We watched as their resolve crumbled, then built itself back up again, until they could no longer be complacent and had to push back in whatever way they could.
This Rebel Heart is such a powerful and beautiful novel, and I truly treasured my time with it. This is one I read at a slower pace, because I really wanted time to digest everything and think about it as I read. Ultimately, I feel that made my enjoyment even more palpable. I’m so glad I read this one, and I can’t recommend it enough!
Thank you to TBR and Beyond Tours, NetGalley, and the publisher for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
About the Author:
Katherine Locke (they/them) lives and writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with their feline overlords and their addiction to chai lattes. They are the author of The Girl with the Red Balloon, a 2018 Sydney Taylor Honor Book and 2018 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book, as well as The Spy with the Red Balloon, and the forthcoming This Rebel Heart (April 2022). They are the co-editor and contributor to This is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them and Us, which had three starred reviews and made Kirkus Review’s Best Middle Grade of 2021 list, as well as It’s A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes and Other Jewish Stories. They also contributed to Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens and Out Now: Queer We Go Again. They are the author of picture books Bedtime for Superheroes, What Are Your Words? A Book About Pronouns, and the forthcoming Being Friends with Dragons (February 2022). They can be found online at KatherineLockeBooks.com and @bibliogato on Twitter and Instagram.
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