Night Owls was a sweet little proof that had languished on my tbr pile for a few weeks until the lovely HannahLoveBook from my YA Book Club started raving about it, and demanded that I read it immediately. So aggressive and tenacious was her insistence that I moved it straight up to my next book to read. At first, I was skeptical, as the romance began to creep into the story pretty quickly, but the writing style soon swept me up in the story, even if it wasn’t my kind of plot.
Beatrix is an aspiring artist – but not in the way you’d expect. Unlike many teenage artists, her interest isn’t in expressing her darkest, angst ridden emotions, but in her love of anatomical drawing. She loves nothing better than to sketch black and white, highly accurate drawings of dissections and organs. In an attempt to win a scholarship to a medical school, she’s trying to land the holy grail of anatomical drawing – a real, genuine cadaver from the local training hospital in downtown San Francisco. Her mother is dead against it, so Beatrix has to sneak to the hospital while her mother works nights, and it’s during one of these late night bus rides (known as the Owl service) that she meets the enigmatic Jack. He’s witty, charming and roguishly gorgeous in a way that really annoys the normally detached and emotionless Beatrix, and he may also be the Golden Apple artist, one of San Francisco’s most notoriously bold and evasive graffiti artists, who sprays single enigmatic words in huge, golden letters in hugely public locations. But there’s more to Jack than just his art – there’s reasoning behind his strange calling and a darkness that lurks underneath his easy smile and flawless charm, and Beatrix is determined to solve the mystery. She might even start to learn some things about herself along the way…
Like I said earlier, a lovely, heartfelt story of first love between two teenagers is definitely not the sort of thing I would normally pick up, but there’s a lot more to Night Owls than you can get from a glance. Beatrix is a wonderful change of pace to most YA leading ladies, and I’m a fan of the way she’s written as the sensible, methodical, logical one, as so many girls in this genre are seen as the “emotional and rash” character – although as the plot advances, Beatrix character arc does develop to an emotional blossoming, leading to some pretty reckless decisions, but all done with beautiful intentions. I’m also glad that Jenn felt comfortable writing her sexuality and her physical urges in such an open and acceptable way – again, it’s rare in YA for a teenage girl to have those kind of thoughts, feelings and urges, and it was refreshing to read someone so well rounded. I found Jack a little harder to get on with, but I think it might be because he’s seen exclusively from Beatrix’s perspective, and in her eyes he’s this impossibly beautiful, tragically wounded young man, and while I couldn’t really enjoy him as a character as much, I suppose he is being viewed through the eyes of a young woman very much in love. The supporting characters were fun, and I’d like to know more about Jillian and Heath in particular.
The plot is pretty brilliantly paced, using short, punchy chapters and great drops and twists at the end of each to create a really driven and energetic feel to the story. I would often read “Just One More Chapter” until the early hours of the morning, because Jenn’s writing style is so effortless and beautiful. She balances perfectly between gorgeous passages of description and fun, sweet dialogue that really brings the characters together emotionally, and she has a wonderful attention to detail that makes the city really come alive and feel vibrant and full of love. Night Owls also tackles mental illness is a very sensitive way, and while I’d always like to read more about that subject, since it wasn’t the main focus of the story, the way it’s touched upon is honest and genuine. Schizophrenia is a complex illness, and at no point is it simplified or dismissed easily, and it’s never mistaken for multiple personalities – a lazy writing tool that I really hate. Jenn really understands the illness, and she’s willing to show how painful and devastating it can be.
Night Owls is a beautiful, achingly well written short novel that makes for excellent sunshine reading, especially for fans of Rainbow Rowell, John Green or David Levithan. In the US, the title is The Anatomical Shape of a Heart, and I sort of like that one more, but Night Owls fits the nighttime setting of the plot really well.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. – Night Owls is due for publication on the 24th of September. You can pre-order HERE.