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Symptoms of a Heartbreak

Book review by
Nayanika Kapoor, Common Sense Media
Symptoms of a Heartbreak Book Poster Image
Emotional tale of girl genius who's both doctor and teen.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Insight into hospitals, cancer and what being a doctor can be like. Good introduction to Indian culture: Hindi words are sprinkled in and lots of descriptions of Indian food. Talks about health insurance system in the U.S. and how tough paying for health care can be. 

Positive Messages

Follow your dreams and put in the work to achieve your goals. Be loyal to friends and family. Be empathetic to people who are going through hard situations. Stand up for what you believe in. You have to make tough decisions: Sometimes there's no right or wrong answer. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Saira is a 16-year-old doctor, academically focused and achieves her goals, but she can be defiant and rude at times. She's very compassionate and loyal to the people around her, which sometimes leads her to making questionable decisions. She stays away from alcohol (except once) and doesn't give in to peer pressure, even when the people around her drink. She has a very good relationship with her parents, sometimes rare in YA novels. There's positive representation of an LGBTQ character who struggles with coming out, and the cast of characters is racially diverse. 

Violence
Sex

Graphic descriptions of the main character and her love interest kissing, but they don't have sex. Lots of flirting throughout. Main character and her sister have a conversation about sex, and she makes it clear she won't be having sex soon. Two secondary characters are caught in the shower together, but there's no description of what happened. 

Language

Mild swearing throughout ("ass," "damn," "s--t").  A few instances of "f--k" and "bitch." 

Consumerism

Mention of nice cars that kids get at 16. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Secondary underage characters drink alcohol at parties, and the main character drinks once before deciding not to drink again. Later, she doesn't give into peer pressure by friends to drink. Passing mention of smoking weed. Mention of sangria as "not a real alcohol." Adults drink vodka. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sona Charaipotra’s Symptoms of a Heartbreak is about 16-year-old girl genius doctor Saira Sehgal navigating the complex world of professional medicine while dealing with everyday experiences of being a teen. This novel gives readers a peek into what being a doctor can be like, and the difficult choices that doctors must make. It tackles topics like cancer in great detail, as well death and health insurance. There's kissing, described in some detail. Swearing included "damn," "ass," "s--t," and a few instances of "f--k" and "bitch." There's also underage drinking (the main character tries drinking once) and mentions of smoking weed. The death and emotions surrounding cancer may be intense for some readers.

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What's the story?

SYMPTOMS OF A HEARTBREAK is about a 16-year-old girl, Saira Sehgal, who's the youngest doctor in the United States. After speeding through high school, college at Princeton, and medical school, she starts her career -- and realizes that being tops in school doesn’t mean being a doctor is going to be a walk in the park. She has to prove herself to her crabby boss, beat out her two co-interns for a coveted fellowship spot, make difficult life and death decisions … and deal with her feelings for a very cute patient. Saira has to learn to balance her empathy and impulsive instincts with the reality of cancer and the field she's chosen to go into. And while she’s learning how to be a better doctor, she just might finally learn how to be a teenager, open her heart, and learn what living life is really about.  

Is it any good?

This heartwarming story about the realities of illness, love, and friendship is great for readers interested in pursuing a career in medicine. Though Saira obviously does not follow a traditional path, the book describes illness and the medical profession in great detail and gives readers an overview of what life working in a hospital could be like. It may inspire some readers to pursue medicine, while discouraging others because of the intensity and tough decisions that Saira has to make. Fans of Bollywood and Indian culture will love the mouth-watering descriptions of Indian food, tidbits of Hindi, and references to several Bollywood films throughout the book. It also has strong messages about standing up for what you believe in and living life to the fullest every single day.

Saira’s decisions can sometimes be impulsive, defiant, or downright unsafe, and she faces consequences for them. Readers may find themselves cringing and frustrated at some of her decisions, but will end up rooting for her because of her intentions and pluck.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how following your dreams is shown in Symptoms of a Heartbreak. Saira knew that she wanted to be a doctor very early. Do you have any idea what you might want to be? How would you go about following that path?

  • Do you think Saira lets her emotions get in the way of her work? Or does it help her be a better doctor? How do we balance our emotions with being practical? 

  • How would you support a friend who has only come out to you? 

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