I think it was the frankly stunning cover that initially drew me to Jenn Bennett’s Night Owls (published in the US as The Anatomical Shape of a Heart). There’s apparently a pretty decent-sized part of me that’s attracted to pretty, shiny things, so with the title written in gold, how could I resist? Unfortunately my intense love for the cover didn’t quite transcend to the story of Night Owls itself.
Goodreads synopsis (from the US version, which is more synopsis-y), because I cannot write my own to save my life:
Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she’s spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Da Vinci’s footsteps, she’s ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital’s Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.
Jack is charming, wildly attractive, and possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is—and tries to uncover what he’s hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in her family’s closet tear them apart?
I’ve been reading a pretty considerable amount of contemporary YA lately, and a lot of it’s been pretty awesome. Unfortunately for Night Owls, this means that my expectations and hopes for the genre have become somewhat higher than they once were, and as a result, Night Owls just felt a little vanilla.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it was that I wasn’t so keen on in Night Owls. Nothing really leaps to mind as something I disliked, but at the same time, I can’t think of anything that I truly loved and adored either. It was enjoyable and well-written, but it lacked that special something, the sense of I’ve gained something by reading this book that good contemporary fiction needs. I think it was meant to be deep and meaningful, but felt like it lacked the depth and real insight that it needed. It dealt with some serious topics, and handled them reasonably well, I thought, but there was nothing particularly memorable or new about this story.
Similarly, the romance wasn’t really anything to write home about. I didn’t get the sense of swoon-tasticness that seems to be a recurring theme over on Goodreads. Jack was appropriately dashing, with just enough angst and self-doubt to make him plausible, but on the whole, he was too much of the idealised, dreamy love interest for me to really connect with. To be honest, in the couple of weeks between my finishing Night Owls and writing this, I’d forgotten his name completely. Not exactly the best sign ever. I think Jenn Bennett’s writing was strong enough for him not to be a total manic pixie dream boy, but he came pretty close. Same deal with Bex – I liked her, thought she was a good protagonist, but was never completely invested in her story. I mean, her interests were maybe a little out of left field, but there was very little about her beyond that to make her stand out from any other character in the big ol’ world of YA.
Part of the problem with Night Owls for me was that it sat in a really weird place somewhere between a light, fluffy romance and something deeper. It dealt with too many serious issues to be the former, but I don’t think it managed to have the depth to be the latter. I love my light-hearted romances, and sometimes sheer entertainment value is enough to make me fall for a book, but that wasn’t the feeling I had with Night Owls, which was trying really hard to be meaningful but never quite got there for me.
I think the only stand out aspect of this novel, something I hadn’t seen much of in YA, was the frank and positive way it discussed sex and relationships. It felt a little contrived at points, like the author was trying to make a deliberate point, but I admire its inclusion. It’s not prudish, it’s not OTT, and Jenn Bennett’s approach to including the topic of sex is something that is not as common as it probably ought to be in YA. Fiona Wood explains this far better than I can.
Night Owls was an enjoyable enough read, but ultimately not a particularly memorable one. I didn’t feel like I lost anything by reading it, but then again, I didn’t feel like I gained anything either. It was just kind of there.