Monday 9 September 2019

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Review: Heartstream by Tom Pollock

Heartstream by Tom Pollock

Heartstream by Tom Pollock

Published: 4th July 2019 | Publisher: Walker Books | Cover Designer: Maria Solar Canton | Source: Bought
Tom Pollock on Twitter

I just wanted to see you. Before the end.

A taut psychological thriller about obsession, fame and betrayal, for fans of Black Mirror.

Cat is in love. Always the sensible one, she can't believe that she's actually dating, not to mention dating a star. But the fandom can't know. They would eat her alive. And first at the buffet would definitely be her best friend, Evie.

Amy uses Heartstream, a social media app that allows others to feel your emotions. She broadcasted every moment of her mother's degenerative illness, and her grief following her death. It's the realest, rawest reality TV imaginable. But on the day of Amy's mother's funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in her kitchen. She's rigged herself and the house with explosives - and she's been waiting to talk to Amy for a long time. Who is she? A crazed fan? What does she want? Amy and Cat are about to discover how far true obsession can go.
From Goodreads.

Book Depository | Wordery | Goodreads

Rep: Lesbian MC, male secondary character who wears make-up.

Having absolutely loved Tom Pollock's debut YA, White Rabbit, Red Wolf, I was so, so eager to read his second YA novel, Heartstream. While it takes a while to build, Heartstream is bloody amazing!

Heartstream tells the stories of Amy and Cat in alternate chapters - Amy's over roughly 24 hours, and Cat's over several months. I should point out that the blurb on the book doesn't mention Cat's story al all, so when I got to chapter two, and her story started, I was completely confused. Who is Cat? Why is she relevant? I soon realised the book was telling two different stories of two different teenagers, and for a long time, they didn't seem to connect at all. Amy has been using Heartstream - a social media app that allows you to stream what you're feeling for others to feel - for several months now, ever since dealing with her mum's terminal cancer became too much to cope with alone. She has amassed a huge following of people, all feeding off of her pain. After her mum's funeral, she returns home to find a stranger in her house, Polly, who has rigged the house with explosives and wears an explosive vest, who wants to talk to her before the end. Cat is part of the fandom of Everlasting, the biggest boy band around. The fandom is massive and extremely passionate, with a large group of fans especially obessed with "Rick", the relationship between two band members Ryan and Nick - but no-one nearly as obsessed as Cat's friend Evie. Evie practically needs "Rick" to exist in order to live, and will destroy anyone who dares claim that they're Ryan and Nick aren't together - tech savvy and powerful, with the right connections, Evie can hack into people's social media profiles, post terrible things, and incite the rest of the fandom to trolling. So if Evie ever found out that Cat is actually in a secret relationship with Ryan, all hell will break loose.

White Rabbit, Red Wolf was extremely fast paced, and full of so many twists, I didn't know what way was up, so I was expecting something similar with Heartstream, but I realised quite quickly thatthis isn't that kind of story. It's a real slow burner, only giving you the smallest of clues to keep you guessing. I wondered why we had these two seemingly unconnected stories being told. At first I thought it must be an exploration of social media and online fandom, and the dark sides of both. Obessive followers taking things too far. Oversharing that which should stay private. It was all so deeply disturbing. From the very first chapter, discovering what Heartstream is and what it does, I was so very alarmed. Why on earth would you want to share how you're feeling, allow other people to feel how you're feeling? Especially when your mother is dying, for crying out loud?! And why one earth would you want to follow that person and experience their pain. It came across as rubbernecking and finding enjoyment from someone else's pain, and oh my god, I hated it. They didn't exactly enjoy it, because they weren't feeling anything good, but they kind of immersed themselves in her pain, and revelled in it. It was just disgusting. And then what Evie would do to people in the fandom who crossed her! Or just said something she didn't agree with. She was savage! It was outrageous the lengths she would go to, to ruin someone who didn't necessarily believe "Rick" was a thing. She had so much power, both in terms of how those in the fandom looked up to her, and so had influence over them, and also in regards to her knowledge of technology - and the fandom techy-connections she had, who would do anything she asked or give information she requested - that she would use to her advantage to take someone down. She had absolutely no conscience, because as far as she was concerned, doubting "Rick" was practically sacrilege, and you deserved absolutely everything you got. She's terrifying.

And while Heartstream does cover all of the above, and make you think of the impact of social media and trolling, etc., I soon realised that actually, this is all second to the personal stories of the characters. It took a while for things to get moving, but there's a reason for it. We know there's a reason Polly is holding Cat captive, why she wants to kill them both, but we don't know what the reason is. She seems to have some mental health issues, and is obsessive and determined, but we - and Amy - are clueless for a really long time. Amy will discover something which will just bring up a whole load of other questions, and so much confusion,. There's this constant threat, and a hell of a lot of tension. With Cat, we see how her relationship with Ryan develops, how things get more and more heated in the fandom, and we understand more of what the fallout might be if Evie were to ever discover Cat and Ryan's relationship. The chapters are quite short, and it feels like not a huge amount is actually happening for a while... or so it seems.

Because these two seemingly unconnected stories are connected. What you don't realise is that there are little breadcrumbs, little hints - an innocuous something here, an insignificant something there - that seem like nothing at the time that you compeltely overlook, but mean so much more later. And oh my god, once I got to the initial big reveal, my jaw dropped. Pollock is most definitely the king of twists, because I absolutely did not see it coming, at all. And you just realise that everything you've read up until this point, in both stories, is build up. Yes, it's a slow burner, but there's a reason for it. And you can't have the big reveal without everything that came before. Once I realised, it knocked me sideways, and some things started falling into place. And finally I would have some theories of my own. "As ABC is the case, what if XYZ is actually DEF?" and "Oh! If that's correct, then maybe - maybe - GHI is UVW!" I was right! Oh my god, it was so clever! My mind was blown!

That last third was just shock after shock, but also incredibly emotional. Secrets are discovered, betrayals are uncovered, and great, great wrongs are exposed. My heart broke for Amy and for Cat, and for the lives they've lived. The injustice and evilness of it all! The catastrophic events that have turned their lives upside down. What happened is just so unbelievably horrific and disgusting, and oh my god, I am raging.

But at the same time, I'm also delighted? Heartstream is far from a happy story, but the thriller side of things was just incredible! And the plotting this story involved! It's just so complex and intricate, and bloody fantastic! I kind of want to read the book over, knowing what I know now, and seeing things play out having this perspective. I absolutely loved Heartstream, and can't recommend it enough!

You might also like:

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus Sadie by Courtney Summers Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

Over to you graphic
What books chock full of twists do you love? What are your favourite thrillers? Do you like twists that come with an emotional suckerpunch? Will you be picking up Heartstream? Let me know in the comments!

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