The Secret of a Heart Note
by Stacey Lee
Audience: Young Adult
Katherine Tegen Books (January 26, 2017)
IndieBound | WorldCat
Description from GoodReads:
"Love chose me, and I tried, but I couldn’t stop the arrow in its flight.
As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, fifteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of using her extraordinary sense of smell to mix base notes, top notes, and heart notes into elixirs that help others fall in love.
All while remaining incurably alone.
For Mim, the rules are clear—falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school existence—taking up a sport and limping away flush from victory, joining the debate club and saying things like “That’s a logical fallacy!” Having a boyfriend.
When she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the school soccer star to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that when it comes to falling in love, the choice isn’t always hers to make."
Carolyn's thoughts on the book:
I adored Stacey Lee's debut novel, Under a Painted Sky, as well as her second book, Outrun the Moon. Both focused on the stories of young women of color within an American historical context, so I was quite intrigued when I heard that her latest book was a contemporary YA love story (with a few twists, of course). But exactly what made Lee's historical fiction come to life - the detailed but careful contextualization and world building, the brilliantly unique characters, the smart dialogue - makes her writing sing in The Secret of a Heart Note.
The story focuses on Mim, the last aromateur left on the planet (other than her overbearing mother). These aromateurs, a mother-daughter line throughout all of history, possess magical (or perhaps evolutionarily advanced) smelling abilities that allow them to determine a person's unique mix of scents - and, once they understand that scent, mix love potions. While it ultimately leaves me unsure whether to classify it as low contemporary fantasy, speculative fiction, or sci-fi, this 'it-could-be-magic-or-science' approach allows the plot and characters, rather than the setting, to drive the book. Mim's character growth is at the center of the book; while she may possess super-smelling powers, at the end of the day, she is an over-committed and exhausted teenager in search of her own identity. Of course, when love potions are involved, nothing is simple; only one love elixir can be made for a person, and the potions are extremely difficult to undo. So when Mim accidentally doses the wrong person, it sets off a chain of wild events neither she - nor her dogmatic mother - could have ever anticipated. Complicating matters further, Mim is forbidden to fall in love herself, as she would lose her smelling abilities permanently; this is more difficult said than done. But perhaps the rules aren't as rigid as Mim has been led to believe...
The book artfully weaves together different plotlines - Mim's absent aunt (who lost her own sense of smell after falling in love) and the resulting familial drama, Mim's general high school/teenage angst, the school's resident mean girl blackmailing Mim to make her a love potion (or else she'll out Mim's best friend), and, of course, the chaotic (perhaps A Midsummer Night's Dream-esque) hijinks that ensue after Mim gives a love potion to the wrong person (involving the school librarian, her algebra teacher, and the mother of the school's soccer star) - as well as Mim's budding relationship with said soccer star. However, Mim's journey throughout the book, to find her place and identity in the world, is ultimately the heart and cornerstone of the book. This journey, in combination with Lee's beautiful descriptions of seemingly-infinite numbers of botanical scents, and other methods of contextualization (quotes from aromateurs throughout history to start every chapter, and other bits of important information from this alternative history added in as necessary), makes the book just as brilliantly vivid and character-driven as its predecessors. The Secret of a Heart Note is an achingly exquisite read, perfect for fans of contemporary fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, and Stacey Lee's other novels alike.
Carolyn is a teen blogger who shares her favorite YA reads and favorite book related finds with readers on Fridays.