Hello, friends! It’s my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke and I’m excited to share my review and favourite quotes with you today.
Special thanks to Knopf Books for Young Readers for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
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Goodreads: This Rebel Heart
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 05 April 2022
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
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.
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Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
Before diving into my review and favourite quotes, I want to share my appreciation for this cover because wow, it’s absolutely stunning! It’s so well done, I love the character art (by Aykut Aydoğdu), the changing colours for the title and the details too, such as the presence of the burning city where the character’s heart would be. I love it! 😍
TL;DR: I’m so glad that this book crossed my radar because I loved it! This Rebel Heart was a powerful story set in post-WWII communist Hungary focusing on Csilla, a young woman trying to find her place in the world amidst a revolutionary movement against an oppressive regime. It’s a unique story that concentrates on a period and place that I’ve rarely seen in fiction (especially YA) and the characters and perspectives combined with the wonderful writing really made this a stand out read to me. It’s different from what I’ve been picking up lately but it reminded me just how much I love historical fiction and now I want more!
“Ehyeh asher ehyeh. I will be what I will be.”Katherine Locke, This Rebel Heart
I love when a story can send me off into the wilds of the internet to search for hours about a new topic and this did just that! Most of the WWII-era stories I’ve read focus on the Holocaust but few looks at the aftermath and the impact of the war in surrounding European countries, so the fact that this wasn’t was enough to pique my curiosity. And though this wasn’t a fast-paced read, the inclusion of various elements that I really enjoy made it continuously engaging and had me eager to know more.
“Everywhere we walk in this city, we walk on ghosts. That building is no different.”Katherine Locke, This Rebel Heart
The writing was wonderfully vivid and immersive. The Hungary that Locke paints is one that’s literally colourless and Budapest is a city that is still recovering from war even while threads of unrest slowly begin to unravel within the country’s borders. Though this lack of colour isn’t explained in the story, I took this imagery to be symbolic of the country being under an oppressive regime, which made it even more impactful when colour eventually returns. This story is packed with a lot of powerful imagery which made it so easy to picture the scenes playing out in front of me like a movie. I appreciated the diversity and inclusion of queer characters in the story as they were also heavily persecuted and disappeared during this period and not many stories include their struggle; plus, it felt like a natural inclusion in the storyline!
“Perhaps the system, from top to bottom and bottom to top, made people bitter and paranoid. Perhaps that was the role of the system. Bitter, paranoid people were paralyzed by their own thoughts. Bitter and paranoid people didn’t try to change, they just tried to survive.”Katherine Locke, This Rebel Heart
This book also has magical realism which is a genre I often struggle with. However, I’ve learned to accept that in stories that aren’t strictly fantasy there doesn’t necessarily have to be an explanation about how the magic works. With that in mind, I actually found that the added elements of the magical river, which was essentially a character in itself, Jewish folklore such as the golem, and other “supernatural” beings enriched this story by giving it a fantastical twist that kept me thoroughly engaged. Something else that I really loved was the epigraphs in the form of journal entries, letters and news article excerpts, especially Csilla’s father’s journal entries as they gave great insight into a character who might not have been physically present in the book but had a huge presence and impact on Csilla’s story.
“Memory and forgetting were two weights on a scale of history. One must forget just enough to move forward, and remember just enough to avoid repeating the horrors of history.“Katherine Locke, This Rebel Heart
Csilla was a fantastic and complex protagonist who experiences incredible growth. Hers was a tumultuous journey filled with paranoia, fear, anger, and confusion but also with a burning hope for a better future for herself, the Hungarian people and especially for the Hungarian Jews. Through her eyes, we also experience how pervasive and insidious antisemitism is—even within a country that’s fighting together for its liberation, people still have the time to persecute those they perceive as “other”. The strength of her emotions was palpable and I felt her fear and paranoia, her feelings of betrayal by her father and country, and her unwavering hope for her people. She is a courageous fighter and I really admired her rebel heart!
“The streets felt different in the bright light of morning—like the entire city remembered how to breathe overnight. They inhaled occupation. They exhaled revolution.“Katherine Locke, This Rebel Heart
There’s a great cast of supporting characters in Csilla’s story that I really loved and there are some pretty interesting relationship dynamics that happened which I did not expect! Most of them contribute in significant ways to the plot’s progression and Csilla’s growth, especially Tamas, Azriel, Szu and her aunt Ilona. We do get one other minor pov from a character that I found really intriguing but I’m a little bummed that Tamas didn’t get a pov considering he played such a big role in the story in more ways than one.
“A story wasn’t retold to remember the truth it held at the time it was first told, at the time it was created. A story was retold to learn its truth at the time of the retelling. […] This was the truth of Budapest, the river turned silver, the girl with the moon in her hair, the boy with the city in his eyes, the boy with death in his hands. This river was their pillar of fire, their way through the wilderness, their cloud by day and light by night.Katherine Locke, This Rebel Heart
I kind of wish the ending had been less abrupt as I would’ve liked to have gently extracted myself from the story rather than to be abruptly cut out at what felt like such a poignant moment; but this is very much a personal preference as I’m generally not a fan of endings that are abrupt and open-ended. Overall though, there was so much to this story that surprised me and that I found unique. That gorgeous cover is what caught my attention, the interesting synopsis reeled me in and the story kept me hooked until the end!
Songs don’t normally come to me while I’m reading but with this book, the song “The City and the River” by The Rescues played an endless loop in my head and it felt so fitting that I’ve decided to share it here! It’s a beautiful song. 🧡
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.
Do you have This Rebel Heart on your TBR?