The Mud and Stars Book Blog

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Reasons you should read ‘How Hard Can Love be?’ by Holly Bourne (including feminism, romance, and cheesy snacks!)

on February 7, 2016

tumblr_inline_nud81nJ3131tv10ry_1280How Hard Can Love be? Holly Bourne. Usbourne Publishing. February 2016.

All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber’s hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.

And then there’s prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie’s advice, there’s no escaping the fact: love is hard.


Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne was one of my favourite reads of 2015, therefore I was so excited when I realised it was the first in a trilogy of books following Evie, Amber, and Lottie (and their grassroots feminist group “The Spinster Club”). How Hard Can Love be? was one of my most anticipated releases of 2016, so I went straight out and bought this on publication day. I’m so happy it lived up to my expectations!

How Hard Can Love be? is Amber’s story, and although it’s technically book two in a series, this novel can be read and enjoyed as a standalone. There are references to events from AINY, but they won’t jar the narrative if you haven’t read it, as context is always provided. But of course, YOU SHOULD TOTALLY READ IT.

The story follows Amber as she leaves England behind to spend the summer in California with her mum (who she hasn’t seen for two years). Amber’s mum is a recovering alcoholic, who abandoned her when she ran off to America and married a man named Kevin without even inviting Amber to the wedding (leaving Amber behind with her dad, evil-stepmother Penny, and even eviller stepbrother Craig….)

Amber, naturally not Kevin’s biggest fan, presents him as a pretty loathsome and shady character – not only does he have a chin which resembles a bum (hence her tendency to refer to him, childishly but rather satisfyingly, as Bumface Kevin throughout the novel), but he also initially got involved with Amber’s mum when he was a therapist and she was receiving counselling for her addiction. Needless to say, Amber’s feeling pretty resentful that Kevin’s going to be hovering around all summer, when all she wants in the world is some time alone with her mum.

Spending time with her, however, seems highly unlikely to happen at all. Amber’s mum and Kevin run a summer camp for kids, and Amber finds herself spending most of her days working, rather than repairing their broken relationship like she’d envisioned.

I felt desperately sorry for Amber throughout the story, because she starts out with such high hopes for the summer, yet every time an opportunity arises to spend some time with her mum, she’s left feeling brushed off, pushed away, and crushingly disappointed. I easily became emotionally invested in Amber’s story, and felt everything she was feeling – I even had an intense dislike of Bumface Kevin, despite the fact that he never does anything especially villainous!

Amber’s feeling mixed up and alone when she arrives in America, and the culture clash between her home, and the country where her mum has set up a new life without her, only serves to make adjusting even more difficult for her. She’s fixated on how ‘American’ everything is, from the San Francisco diner that ‘[looks]  like the womb in which Grease [was]  incubated’ (“Mum, it’s like someone puked up America in here…”) to the people she meets at camp, who all want to know so much about her, and encourage her to share her feelings (which as a Brit, I can testify, we’re bloody awful at doing!)

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Source: Tumblr

Amber’s observations about her surroundings and the people she met were always amusing, and although at first her remarks came across as snide and resentful, they gradually become less snarky and more playful. When she meets Kyle, who’s also working at the camp that summer, Amber dubs him the most American person she’s ever met (though he quickly counters that she’s the most British person he’s ever met when she accidentally uses the word ‘Bollocks’ twice in one sentence!) If you’re an American reader, don’t feel bad – it’s all harmless fun, plus this British book takes the piss out of its own just as frequently…

british

I enjoyed every Amber and Kyle scene, and what I loved most was the way their romance subverted all of the clichés we’re used to reading in love stories. Kyle, on first meeting, could easily be misconstrued as a walking cliché; he’s the obvious romantic lead, gorgeous, athletic, charming, NICE…. he even wound up being crowned Prom King back in high school… And yet, Kyle, deep down, is insecure (much more so than Amber, who has endured years of name-calling from intolerant kids at school who can’t process the fact that someone would dare to be both tall and ginger…!)

Kyle perceives himself as boring, as somebody who always does what’s expected of him, and as somebody who has nothing to say for himself. He’s wrong, of course, but this insecurity really endeared him to me as a character. I think Holly Bourne is fantastic for showing that boys also suffer from insecurities – that feeling this way is not exclusively a ‘female thing’, as plenty of books would have us believe.

The other refreshing and cliché-busting aspect of the romance  was that Amber doesn’t lose her mind or herself just because she’s maybe-falling-for an attractive guy who seems to feel the same way. Amber is a strong character who always follows her instincts and remains true to her principles. I like that she didn’t blindly trust a guy she barely knew, and didn’t let herself rush into things without pausing to work out how she was feeling and whether it was a good idea.

Speaking of Amber’s principles, I loved the regular ‘Spinster Club’ meetings Amber had with Evie and Lottie in this book. In AINY, the girls regularly met to talk about feminism and sexism, and the group continues to meet in How Hard Can Love be? (via Skype, as Amber’s friends are back in England for the duration of the book.)

The great thing about The Spinster Club scenes is that they make feminist ideas accessible to people who may never have considered/thought about them before, and the way humour is injected into these scenes means that, although serious issues are being discussed, the ideas are digestible and completely relatable to anyone.

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I have so much respect and gratitude for Holly Bourne choosing to place strong female friendship at the core of this series, and it’s so fantastic to see girls in YA talking about gender issues. I wish books like these had existed when I was at school.

I loved that this book recognised sexism as something affecting both men and women, and feminism as being for everyone. Kyle asks: “Do you ever think it’s possible for men to suffer from sexism too?” and Amber responds:

genderroles 

This is something I feel myself reiterating all the time, because the definition of feminism is often distorted and there’s a real lack of understanding over the fact that feminism is about equality and not female superiority.

I’m sure it’s obvious from all my wittering on, but I absolutely adored this book! The characters were complex, the narration was witty and frequently made me laugh out loud, the romance was refreshing (but also adorable and warm-fuzzy-feelings-inducing), the discussions about feminism were frank and extremely relatable, and as an added bonus, I got to see parts of America I’ve always wanted to visit. 5 stars to another wonderful Holly Bourne book! Go read this one – it’s pretty damn smashing! 😀

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19 responses to “Reasons you should read ‘How Hard Can Love be?’ by Holly Bourne (including feminism, romance, and cheesy snacks!)

  1. Appletaile says:

    Omg, I just read this book and absolutely LOVED it! (It’s actually sitting next to me as I type at the computer, hehe. I was writing up an event where I went to see Holly speak, which was amazing!) I also definitely related to all the US/UK comparison too. 😛

    • mudandstars says:

      Yay, glad you enjoyed this book too! The US/UK stuff was hilarious, I definitely related – I am a massive British stereotype haha. Ooh that’s cool, what was the event? I saw Holly speak on some panels at YALC and YA Shot last year, and think she’s awesome! Look forward to reading your post on that 🙂

      • Appletaile says:

        I just REALLY love coaring cultures! 😛 Oh, I remember being annoyed at missing her at YALC haha. I saw her in a panel at Waterstone’s and she was fab! (I think you’ve liked the post? But if I’m making that up it’s here.)

      • mudandstars says:

        Me too! I actually went to New York last week for a holiday, and it was really interesting to see all the differences. One of the main ones being that Americans are a lot friendlier and more helpful than British people hahaa! 😛 We had a week of super smiley people who wanted to chat, and then got back to London and right away encountered THE grumpiest and rudest bus driver ever which sealed the point haha! I did indeed like the post, sounds like it was a really interesting event 😀 And that’s a shame you missed her at YALC, but I’m sure she will be there again this year 🙂

      • Appletaile says:

        (Oh my goodness, I might to say comparing. *hides*)
        Woah, that’s so interesting! I’ve heard people say that, but I never know if it’s a stereotype or real. I’m going to New York in April and I am SO RIDICULOUSLY EXCITED AAH. ❤

      • mudandstars says:

        Hahah don’t worry, autocorrect defeats the best of us! I thought it was a stereotype too, but literally everyone we met was SO friendly, the comparison of getting back to London made it so obvious haha! Ooh hope you have an amazing holiday, I loved it so much – hope you do too! 😀

      • Appletaile says:

        (Oh no, I misspelt AGAIN. I meant to say comparing. Sorry!)

  2. OMG! It looks so good, I have to check it out!

  3. I really want to read am I normal yet and some of Holly Bourne’s other books too!

  4. Annelise Lestrange says:

    This book sounds so cool!! I’ll see if I

    • Annelise Lestrange says:

      * I’ll see if I can find this around on a local bookstore 😀 If I can’t, I’ll buy the ebook for sure! Loved your review, love!! ❤ (my computer went crazy and cut me in the middle of the comment hahahaha)

      • mudandstars says:

        Aww thank you! You definitely should, it was awesome! I definitely reccommend checking out the first book – Am I Normal Yet? – as I really loved that one too 😀 Haha don’t worry, my computer does this to me all the time to!

      • Annelise Lestrange says:

        I will, I loved this series style 😍 And thank you for sharing 💙💙

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