Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

Review by Hannah Luppe

Flatiron Books, 2021

416, Hardcover, $25.99 CAD,9781250268396

Ages 13 – 18, Grades 9+

Fantasy, Romance

According to the myths, the Prince of Hearts was not capable of love because his heart had stopped beating long ago. Only one person could make it work again: his one true love. They said his kiss was fatal to all but her—his only weakness—and as he’d sought her, he’d left a trail of corpses.

Part of growing up means realizing not every story ends with a happily ever after. Toads don’t turn into princes, kisses don’t break curses, and sometimes the person we love marries our stepsister. At least, that’s what happens to Evangeline Fox in Stephanie Garber’s Once Upon a Broken Heart.

Evangeline is the heroine of this twisted fairy tale, but don’t let her rose-gold hair fool you; she’s not just another fair maiden with pretty face. She’s bold, she’s witty, and she makes plenty of mistakes throughout the novel—some justified, some not so much—starting with the deal she strikes with Jacks, the wicked Prince of Hearts. In exchange for stopping her stepsister’s wedding, Jacks asks for three kisses to be given at the time and place of his choosing. With a touch of murder, a few dark prophecies, and a vampire or two, Stephanie Garber brews the perfect potion for a Young Adult fantasy plot: it’s magical, romantic, and, of course, fabulously angsty.

I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical about this book when I first saw the title. I’m picky about retellings, and I prepared myself for a jumbled, glittery mess of spliced together fairy tales. But while Once Upon a Broken Heart does indeed borrow evil stepmothers, curses, and true love’s kisses, Garber reimagines each worn trope to create an entirely new fairy tale. Through her rich and complex worldbuilding, magic comes to life, from sentient doorbells to pet-size dragons who turn to smoke if they fly too far South. This book’s attention to detail creates an immersive atmosphere where familiar fairy tale elements feel surprising and original, creating a fast-paced plot that is equally unexpected. I got so, wonderfully lost within Evangeline’s world that I felt I was attending balls and reading spell books right alongside her. Her relationship with Jacks is just as complex as the plot, and their chemistry kept my eyes glued to the page long after the clock struck twelve.

Stephanie Garber’s Once Upon a Broken Heart is a magical story perfect for fans of Caraval and The Cruel Prince. Was it a ground-breaking piece of literature that will change the face of the Young Adult publishing industry? Probably not. Did I scour the internet for fanart and immediately purchase the second book after finishing this one? Absolutely. I started this story a little cynical and ended it enchanted. A happily-ever-after, indeed.

Hannah Luppe is currently completing her MA in Children’s Literature at UBC. She is the managing editor of Young Adulting Review.

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