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Titles similar to Our Crooked Hearts
In 2018, Melissa Albert arrived with The Hazel Wood, an auspicious debut that handed readers a delicately cracked looking glass, giving jagged edges to the fairy tales of our collective unconscious. Albert three times lured us into the Hinterland, enchanting fans with a witches’ brew of eerie urban fantasy, complex mother-daughter dynamics, and needle-tipped prose—ambitiously honing her craft along the way. Now, with Our Crooked Hearts, her first foray outside the Hazel Wood, she employs familiar themes and techniques, but at a new level of mastery, producing a standalone novel so precise and enthralling that the only possible explanation is that Albert herself is a witch.
This time around, the brew features Ivy, a white 17-year-old whose suburban life is corrupted by a series of unsettling events: a naked young woman, strangely familiar, stumbling through the woods; a rabbit carcass stretched out on her driveway; a cabalistic concoction buried by her mother, Dana; lost keepsakes found in her parents’ safe; and a nagging feeling that something is out of place. As Ivy begins pulling at the secrets threaded through her life, the story branches apart, introducing intermittent chapters of a teenage Dana, her hard-knock Chicago upbringing, her bond with best friend Fee, their fated meeting with the ambitious Marion, and the trio’s ill-fated descent into the occult.
The story casts its spell at once, ensnaring readers with incantatory language and a wickedly slow burning plot. The heavy use of metaphor—always on point—adds a subtly otherworldly layer to the text. Meanwhile, Albert carefully adds tension, one element at a time, to the mysteries surrounding Ivy, but revelation isn’t the point. It’s made clear, early on, that Ivy suspects her mother of being a worker—an occultist, a witch—and as Dana’s backstory is layered in, as her coven develops their nascent powers and heads toward a violent break, that theory is confirmed for the reader. The tension continues to thicken, however, out of the fraught, if distant, relationship between mother and daughter and the question of what deeper secrets lie hidden, of how Dana’s history ties into the missing pieces of the puzzle that is Ivy’s life.
Here, in the pacing and structure, Albert’s meticulous craftwork shines. As the short chapters alternate between Ivy in “the suburbs, right now” and Dana in “the city, back then,” a pattern emerges of rising and sharply falling suspense. The frequent interruptions prevent either story arc from making a more dramatic climb, and while that may frustrate thirsty readers, it lends a serrated edge to the knifing tension that grows with every section. More importantly, the two time lines don’t simply run parallel but rather inform one another, working in harmony as information is revealed in one thread that adds crucial context to the other. This slow-burn approach gives consistency to the pacing and keeps readers solidly under Albert’s simmering spell.
And while the novel is bookended by Ivy’s anchoring point of view, the greater story proves to be as much Dana’s as hers. It raises questions about the line between our parents’ stories and our own. Here, as in life, they overlap—and even echo one another, at times. The result is a nuanced and emotionally epic exploration of the characters through their relationships, through the choices they make and the ensuing consequences. Albert manages to infuse the text with the agonizing pain of a parent reckoning with her mistakes and holding onto the hope that our children can save us—and themselves. Which, of course, Ivy does, in a scorching-hot full-boil finale.
“I didn’t know joy and sorrow could lodge together so tightly.” Me neither, Ivy. But with evocative prose, attention to detail, and patient pacing—not to mention a beautifully understated romance—Albert is able to conjure a deeply resonant emotional reality, as well as a fully realized, wonderfully creepy reality-reality, and for a horror-tinged fantasy, that is especially engrossing. This is a novel that will be devoured as well as savored. It takes risks and, magically, succeeds. Of course, the magic is in the execution, in the craft. And whether or not Albert is in fact a witch, one thing is for sure: her words are magic.
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