‘There are words you can’t say in here; you don’t ask why, you don’t ask how, you don’t ask about tomorrow and you never ask about home.’
Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne is a story about a broken girl awaiting trial at Archway Young Offenders Institution. Unlike most stories where a victim is depicted, this is told through the eyes of Emily Koll, the guilty.
Written in journal entries, readers are able to flip from the present to the past with an almost seamless ease. The further you go into the mind of Emily, the more you begin to understand that she’s not just a spunky and sarcastic teenager, who is angry at the unfairness of the world.
Yes, that is a big part of it. But the deeper you go, the more relatable she becomes. She’s a teenager: tough, and yet, vulnerable. In one night, her world is shattered and piece-by-piece you see how she chooses to deal with that.
When Emily finds out her father is a notorious gangster who shot a policeman in his bed, she is horrified and ashamed. But after a while, the grief and anger and hurt begins to consume her mind, until only one thing remains. Vengeance.
Emily, with the help of her uncle, tracks down the policeman’s daughter—Juliet—the girl who bravely stabbed Emily’s father and ruined her life. Enrolling in Juliet’s school, Emily immerses herself into every good memory the younger girl has; whether it is becoming Juliet’s friend or being there when she falls in love… slowly, slowly, Emily waits for the moment when she can get her revenge.
There is wistfulness in the way she looks back and enough humour to make her appealing. Emily doesn’t apologise for her actions. And in a shy, quiet and possibly evil sort of way, I was rooting for her to succeed. An anti-hero. The closer I got to her, the less horrified I became—instead, I was saddened for her.
Emily always has the potential to be someone else, someone better. It shows through the eyes of other characters and the way they respond to her: Sid, Grace, her doctor and the girls from the institution.
Heart-Shaped Bruise observes the differences between being who you are and what you’ve done. And though Emily’s acts aren’t those you’d wish from a friend, she has an intensity in the way she feels things that makes her relatable and allows for sympathy.
Emily may not deserve the happiest of endings, but there is something to hope for as Byrne delivers a story worth suspending your morals—at least for an afternoon.
Available now: Hachette RRP$32.99