Books Chick Lit contemporary fiction Romance

“A Home for Broken Hearts” by Rowan Coleman is a powerful story for young girls… and young boys

I’ve only recently discovered Rowan Coleman’s books, but I have very quickly become a big fan. I have a massive respect for Coleman, her stories are powerful and she talks about the issues that other people sometimes like to sweep under the carpet. Like illnesses, death, adultery, rape… not in a bad, or a morbid, way, but in a way that allows us to feel free and unrestricted; in a way that makes us feel stronger afterwards for having the ability to be able to talk about it and not live in fear from it.

Her novel A Home for Broken Hearts is no different. With this story, Coleman makes us question our own lives, leaving is wondering, is this the life I want to live? Is this the example I want to set? Is this who I want to be?

Once upon a time, Ellen Woods had her ‘happily ever after’ moment when she married her beloved Nick. But fifteen years later her husband’s tragic death leaves her alone with their soon-to-become-a-teenager son and a mountain of debt.

On the verge of losing the family home Ellen decides to rent out some rooms, and all too soon a whole host of characters enter her ordered but fragile existence – each with their own messy life in tow. But will this be enough to pull her out of her grief so she can learn to live – and love – again?

A Home for Broken Hearts (also previously published as The Happy Home for Broken Hearts) has a lot of complex themes for a chick-lit style novel, which shows Coleman’s literacy tapestry with how she wove together this story. She takes a look at fantasy versus reality, defining safety, control, misuse of trust in relationships, love, second chances and redemption. And although these themes are pretty hard hitting, it’s a joyous, heart-warming, witty read.

One of the most interesting things in this novel is her character arcs. I adore the characters in A Home for Broken Hearts. None of them are perfect and they are all flawed in some way, but that’s what makes them real and relatable. It’s what makes us root for them, and hope for them, and grieve for them and hurt for them. I could very easily see parts of myself in almost all of her characters. After a while they even start to feel like old friends.

However, the thing that makes this book in particular so special is that she has a powerful message to her young readers – young girls and young boys separately. And she does this through her characters of Ellen and Matt.

First, one for the girls. Coleman’s message to her young female audience is simple: Have some fire. Be unstoppable, be a total force of nature, be bigger and better than anyone thinks or expects. Make things happen for yourself, take charge or your own life and don’t wait for a boy or man to come and save you. Be the hero of your own story.

For years it’s been the role of a woman to sit back and look after her man. This idea is not only old fashioned, but utterly ridiculous. Your life is not to be revolved around a man, and you shouldn’t need to wait for any guy to swoop in and save you.

What Ellen learns come the end of the book is that you need to save yourself, and make things happen for yourself, because you are every bit as powerful. Don’t let what a guy wants eclipse what you need. You’re not a planet orbiting his sun, you are the sun. Recognise your own power and don’t let anyone distinguish it.

‘I hope she knows what she is doing,’ Sabine said anxiously.
‘I think she does,’ Allegra reassured her. ‘I think she has finally decided to become the heroine in her own story, and she is strong, much stronger than she realises.’

– Rowan Coleman, A Home for Broken Hearts

Now, for the boys. This one is a little more complicated, but in the same way just as simple. Respect women, ask for consent, and understand that life is not just about big boobs, small waists and round bums.

This message it put together and built up so well in A Home for Broken Hearts. It starts off with Ellen talking to Allegra about her stories where women fall in love with men who have ‘had their way with them’ without consent (it’s never referred to as rape in this circumstance). Ellen questions the realisticness of that situation and Allegra agrees that yes, in real life, they probably wouldn’t fall for a man who would make them feel so violated. But in fiction – similar to consented role play in the bedroom – it’s more acceptable because the person can enjoy being overpowered by a man in a desirable, lustful way in a safe place and can enjoy it because it’s consented. Like having a partner tie you up in bed. That kind of submission, when consent is granted, can allow us to feel sexy and experience pleasure knowing they’re safe.

It’s developed further when Matt starts to work at Bang It! magazine, where every day he is surround by almost fully naked women and basically gets paid to hit on women then slag them in his weekly column where he fully discusses – and exaggerates – their fling. He does not ask their permission and the girls who do find out about it are disgusted with him. Growing a conscious over the duration of the book, he begins to hate his own column, wants the near-naked model to have some self-respect and actually begins to fall in love.

The character of Hannah, and what she goes through, demonstrates what happens when consent isn’t granted, or even asked for. And it shows the vulnerability of being a young girl in today’s world. So, Coleman’s message to young boys is to respect women. Always.

A Home for Broken Hearts is the story of the year, for me. And not a story to be missed.

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