Author: Daniel Waters
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Young Adult
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children (Disney Books)
Publication Date: October 2012
Hardcover: 352 Pages
Living in the aftermath of the Event means that seeing the dead is now a part of life, but Veronica wishes that the ghosts would just move on. Instead, the ghosts aren’t disappearing–they’re gaining power.
When Veronica and her friend, Kirk, decide to investigate why, they stumble upon a more sinister plot than they ever could have imagined. One of Veronica’s high school teachers is crippled by the fact that his dead daughter has never returned as a ghost, and he’s haunted by the possibility that she’s waiting to reappear within a fresh body. Veronica seems like the perfect host. And even if he’s wrong, what’s the harm in creating one more ghost?
From critically acclaimed Generation Dead author Daniel Waters, comes a delectably creepy and suspenseful thriller. Break My Heart 1,000 Times will leave readers with the chills. Or is that a ghost reading over the page?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: I have been a big Daniel Waters fan, ever since I read Generation Dead and the subsequent books in the series. Don’t let the kitschy covers fool you – Waters’ books are complex, emotional creatures that will surprise you with their depth. When I saw that he would be writing a ghost story, I immediately was hooked.
Ever since the Event, ghosts have become a regular part of daily life. As if on an endless, mindless loop, these specters return every day, doing something that they did in life. For sixteen year old Veronica, her father appears every morning at the breakfast table, reading the same ghostly newspaper, sipping the same steaming hot cup of coffee, then looking up and smiling at some memory of his wife and daughter before disappearing. There’s the ghost of Mary Greer, a brutally killed young girl, whose ghost appears happily walking to her former teacher’s house each morning. There’s a girl in the children’s room of the library, happily receiving a book; a boy who was murdered, whose specter repeats his death fall every afternoon. These ghosts, from the mundane to the horrific, have ingratiated themselves in daily life – for Ronnie, they are familiar, soundless presences, that she learns to respect, but ignore. Except, the ghosts in Ronnie’s life seem to be changing – as time passes, even more ghosts start to materialize, including a teenage boy, Brian, that inconveniently appears in Ronnie’s bathroom each morning.
The increased activity and presence of ghosts intrigues Kirk Lane, who has had a crush on Ronnie for longer than he can remember. When he sees that Veronica starts taking an interest in ghosts, he sees an opening to catch her attention – Kirk begins an extra-credit project to document the different ghosts in town and enlists Ronnie’s help. What Kirk and Ronnie discover, however, is that the ghosts in Ronnie’s life tell a story of betrayal, pain and death at the hands of a killer. And now, with February 29 rapidly approaching, Veronica is next on the killer’s list.
I am a huge Daniel Waters fan – I loved his Generation Dead books, for their solid writing and nuanced characterizations, but most of all for the fascinating questions these novels posed about perceptions of life and death. This latter quality is a driving theme in Waters’ Break My Heart 1,000 Times, and easily the most compelling part of this novel. Why do some ghosts return, and why not others? Why do they return doing what they do – mundane tasks, running for their lives, getting beaten up for eternity? What was the Event, and why did it happen? And, in its aftermath, how do people deal with their loved ones haunting their lives? Do they move on, or like Veronica’s mother, do they withdraw into themselves, unable to do anything while the specters of the past linger? There are so many questions posed by the book, with a satisfying lack of answers. I love that Waters does not delve into the reasons behind the Event, and that it takes a while to actually piece together what has happened to the world – I love that ghosts pose more questions than they do answers. On the whole, the premise behind Break My Heart 1,000 Times is phenomenal.
From a character perspective, Break My Heart also does a solid job, with two protagonists in Veronica and Kirk that are memorable and believable. I love that Ronnie is a beautiful, confident young woman that does not want a relationship, is happy to date, and is unapologetic about what she wants. Most contemporary YA novels feature heroines that find the love of their lives and eagerly dive into all-consuming relationships – how refreshing it is that Ronnie is not interested in anything of the sort. Kirk, too, is a refreshing lead, and I appreciated his frankness and dedication to Ronnie, plus he reads like a real teenager, to boot. While these two are drawn well for the most part, they are not without their own frustrations – in order to provoke tension (and to raise the stakes by the time the killer makes his move on Ronnie), there are some predictable and moronic moments on the part of both characters. They discover who the killer is, and then go about this discovery in the most idiotic way possible (i.e. not calling the police, getting into a fight with each other and splitting up on the eve of the murder when they know the murder will occur, etc). I’m also not crazy about Veronica and her feelings for ghost Brian, which feels awkward and forced.1
Additionally, there is a level of cheese with regards to the writing. Break My Heart 1,000 Times alternates four narrative arcs – there are the larger arcs following Veronica’s thoughts and Kirk’s, which are interjected with narratives of the ghost boy in Veronica’s bathroom, and Mr. Bittner (the killer, this is not a spoiler since it is revealed in the early chapters). The exchanges with Mr. Bittner, in particular, feel forced and at times almost cringeworthy as the villain reflects and converses about the girls he has murdered in his attempts to bring his daughter back to life (it’s all very Norman Bates and his mother-ish, but not in a good way).
The novel is also a thriller, building up to the next murder on Mr. Bittner’s list. While the story moves along at an assured pace and I appreciate Dan Waters’ skill as a storyteller, the book lacks vital tension. Mostly, this is because we know who the killer is, and our protagonists know who the killer is, yet do nothing to stop the killer. Instead, tension is created on the character level by forcing a wedge between Veronica and Kirk, which isn’t quite an effective solution. This said, Break My Heart 1,000 Times has its strengths in the quieter moments of the book – in the pain that Veronica’s mother feels every day, in Ronnie’s best friend and her terror of ghosts, in Kirk’s theorizing about the ghosts themselves.
Overall, Break My Heart 1,000 Times is another strong entry from the very talented Daniel Waters. It’s not quite as good as the Generation Dead books, but certainly an eerie and memorable spin on the traditional ghost story, and recommended (albeit with a few reservations).
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
I walk through walls. I whisper at the window when I watch her leave our home. I flicker at the edges of my own memory.
She sleeps now, her breath ruffling the edge of her pillowcase. I don’t know if it is my presence at the foot of her bed that causes her to roll over. Her arm, suddenly free of her comforter cocoon, stretches back over her head, and her pretty face, framed by long auburn hair, turns toward the ceiling.
She looks so much like Mary, I feel the familiar ache that is like death but deeper. I reach toward her, intending only to stroke her cheek, but she whimpers and I wonder what walks through her dreams.
Her alarm sounds, playing a song recorded many years after my death, a song I like. I fall through the floor as her eyes begin to flutter.
Her mother is already in the kitchen, rattling pans, brewing coffee, pouring orange juice. She pauses every three heartbeats to look back at the kitchen table, where the rest of her family will soon sit, her face wrung and lined with worry, as though she feels there is never enough time. And she is right, of course. There never is. She doesn’t see me standing in the archway, as it takes effort by me to be seen. For all I know, it may take effort to see also. She lifts her eyes toward the ceiling through which I just fell, hearing the padding of her daughter’s feet as she rises to shut off the alarm. I wait until I hear the screech and groan of plumbing above as she runs hot water for her shower.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
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- On a side note, it’s a little irksome because it so closely follows Phoebe and her feelings for living dead boy Tommy in Generation Dead. ↩