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Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington
Contemporary fiction

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

by Ed Tarkington

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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

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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Member ratings (273)

  • Cristine D.

    Irwin, PA

    I love books that when you really look, there is a deeper meaning. That touch on true human emotions, Tarkington has spun a tale that will connect with everyone at some level.

  • Elizabeth M.

    Fayetteville, AR

    Thought provoking, beautiful coming of age novel. I have now lent it to all my book loving friends. If you've ever dealt with lost love, lost relationships, it's a must read.

  • Caitlyn J.

    Newtonville, MA

    A lot of intersecting story lines that can be almost overwhelming but it only means the novel is even more enticing.

  • Amanda B.

    Riverview, FL

    I did not expect to like this as much as I did. There are a lot of story lines going on at once yet somehow it works.

  • Stephanie A.

    Bradford , PA

    Great story, but had a hard time keeping me engaged. Some boring, slow spots in the book. But overall loved it!

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