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All booksContemporary fictionOnly Love Can Break Your Heart
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington
Contemporary fiction

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

by Ed Tarkington

Quick take

Like The Wonder Years or A Christmas Story, Tarkington's ability to shine a retrospective light on the painful awkwardness of childhood is masterful and entertaining.

Why I love it

Liberty Hardy
BOTM Judge

Neil Young's hit 1970s song about love, loneliness and heartbreak lends its title to this wonderful coming-of-age novel. It's the perfect namesake for Ed Tarkington's story about all kinds of love, and learning that the things you think you understand when you are a child, may not have been what they seemed at the time.

1977: The narrator, an eight-year-old boy named Rocky, lives in a small Virginia town and and worships his teenage half brother, Paul. When Paul does something unforgivable and disappears, his abrupt departure wreaks havoc on the family.

1984: Rocky, now fifteen years old, is enjoying the perfect summer. But faces – and stories – from the past are about to change all that. And Rocky will learn that first love and familial love are more complicated than he had imagined.

Tarkington does a great job capturing Rocky in both stages of his life: as a naive boy reacting to the grown-up drama around him, and then as a teenager, with dreams and hopes and rampaging hormones. Like a Southern John Irving novel this book is both sweet and heartbreaking, most often when Rocky is getting himself into adult situations, like a fling with the neighbor's much-older daughter.

Like The Wonder Years or A Christmas Story, Tarkington's ability to shine a retrospective light on the painful awkwardness of childhood is masterful, and the story is entertaining and well-plotted, even when it takes a turn toward the more serious. Rocky might not always make the best decisions, but we're rooting for him regardless. Because that's what growing up is all about.

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