Heartbreak Homes by Jo Treggiari

Review by Evelyn Hussey

Nimbus Publishing Limited, October 4, 2022

295 pages, Paperback, $16.95 CAD, $14.95 USD, 9781774711163

Young Adult, Ages 13+, Grades 8+

Fiction, Mystery, LGBTQ+

I made myself shrug. “You liked him.”

Her face cleared. “I did. I really did.”

We were both silent for a breath. “Why would someone kill him?” she asked, her voice raw.

I sighed. “I don’t know.”

Her fingers tightened around mine. There was something she wasn’t telling me. I could see the fear in her dilated pupils.

“What is it Jessa?”

“I’m scared, Frankie.”

She looked around the room, then whispered in my ear. “What if they tried to kill me too? What if the only reason they didn’t is because you interrupted them?”

What would you do if a vicious murder occurred in your small town? Would you shy away from danger? Or would you pursue the killer, searching for the truth no matter how shocking?

When a murder occurs in an abandoned house during a back-to-school party, shockwaves tear through a small town. Frankie, Martin, and Cara are three teens with wildly different backgrounds who have no interest in solving a murder. But as the violence spreads and everything they hold dear is threatened, their stories begin to tangle together, and only by unraveling them do they find the truth.

Heartbreak Homes is told from a first-person perspective by three teens from very different walks of life. All three protagonists are at the back-to-school party for different reasons: there’s Frankie, an introvert who attends the party to please her best friend; Martin who came to the party to catch up with old friends; and Cara, a thief who attends the party to steal. After a murder occurs, Martin and Frankie band together to try and solve the mystery—often putting themselves in danger to do so—and soon Cara is dragged into their search as well.

Each of the protagonists’ voices is unique—they all have different personal problems they are wrestling with, as well as motivations for investigating the murder. Treggiari does a brilliant job writing characters who are doing their best to investigate a mystery, but who are also still teenagers. Treggiari also writes with great detail, the pages rich with descriptions characteristic of teens. Each chapter is told from a different perspective and ends with a nerve-wracking cliffhanger, allowing the reader to watch the mystery unfold.

Treggiari has artfully weaved in themes of addiction, struggles with sexuality, sexual assault, and trauma through Frankie, Cara, and Martin’s stories, but does not let these issues define the characters. Rather, these themes propel the plot forcefully forward as each protagonist must confront their problems as they investigate the murder. A few minor problems are left unsolved, leaving the reader to imagine possible resolutions to each of the characters’ issues. Otherwise, the plot moves at a breakneck pace, and I couldn’t help but try to solve the mystery alongside Cara, Frankie, and Martin.

At the end of the novel, readers are left with a solved mystery in which each of the characters’ stories fit together, making for a satisfying read. Heartbreak Homes is an excellent pick for those who love a good adrenaline rush, a spooky murder-mystery, and well-formed characters.

Evelyn Hussey is a BA psychology student minoring in creative writing at UBC. She loves reading memoirs/creative nonfiction as well as realistic fiction. When she is not reading or writing she spends her time rock climbing, binging true crime content or with her beloved dog, Dipsea.

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