The Book of Broken Hearts

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Book of Broken Hearts Book Poster Image
Teen fights for forbidden love in sweet romance.

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

Educational Value

Kids will be exposed to a smattering of everyday Spanish words. Also a little about rebuilding motorcycles: Some parts are mentioned, but the book doesn't go into specifics about how they work. The narrator's father has early-onset Alzheimer's disease, and readers see how it affects him and his family.

Positive Messages

The overall message is YOLO based: Don't settle for less in life; seize every opportunity that comes your way; everything comes to an end, and the past will never come back. Jude struggles to  accept that she can't know what the future will bring, and that's OK.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jude is a caring young woman who chooses not to spend the summer after graduating high school hanging out with friends. Instead, she takes care of her ailing father. Strong family bonds are modeled among all members: Jude is very loyal to her sisters, and a large part of her growth is learning to manage her conflicted feelings for her love interest. Jude's parents model a warm, loving relationship. The mother works as a nurse, and while most of the action takes place while she's at work, when we do see her she's caring, supportive and non-judgmental. Emilio's mother is also introduced and proves to be a loving, generous influence. Jude's father is ever present, an affectionate man who provides a rock-solid foundation for the father-daughter relationship.


No violence is described first hand. A past tragic motorcycle accident is recounted without gore or detail. A minor accident occurs, and the injuries are mentioned but not described. There's a house fire but no one is hurt.


A few instances of kissing on the mouth (once with tongue), ears, neck, and shoulders. Young-adult sisters talk about their romantic pasts without sexual detail, but one sister talks about a time she almost slept with a boy, and another makes a "doggy style" joke. Jude and Emilio spend an afternoon away from home with some kissing and passionate physical feelings. Whether they had sex is open to interpretation. In the end Jude and Emilio are on a road trip camping together. It's not specifically stated that they have sex, but it seems pretty safe to assume they do.


Lots and lots of "s--t"; other swear words are sprinkled less than half a dozen times each: "f--k," "butt," and "ass" variations ("badass," "gorgeous-ass beach"). Some name-calling and insults: A girl is described once as a "skankalicious skank"; "douche" and "screw you" are each used once. One bit of derogatory slang in Spanish: cabrón.


The first 100 pages or so mention many specific products common to teen life (Red Bull, YouTube, Nice 'n Easy, Doritos, Tampax, Coke, etc.), but none at all after that. The central metaphor is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that gets restored over the course of the story, so Harley continues to be mentioned occasionally throughout, although the bike is mainly referred to by her name: Valentina.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One of Jude's sisters smokes as an adult, snuck cigarettes as a teen, and is mentioned as smelling of cigarettes and lavender several times. Jude gives her an anti-smoking lecture once. This sister gave Jude a cigarette when Jude was 12 so that she wouldn't want to smoke. Mentions of teens having had rum drinks at cast parties at the home of the "cool parents" with no consequences.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Book of Broken Hearts is a touching, sweet, romantic coming-of-age story by Sarah Ockler (Twenty Boy Summer) that will really resonate with anyone who's been in love. There's a lot of swearing, true to the teenage mindset ("s--t," "f--k," "ass"), but 17-year-old narrator-protagonist Jude is a strong, independent person who makes good choices for herself and her family as she copes with forbidden love (her boyfriend's from the "wrong" family) and her dad's early-onset Alzheimer's. There's some flirtation with sexual innuendo and passionate kissing, but whether sex has occurred is open to interpretation. Traumatic events are conveyed without detailed descriptions of violence.

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What's the story?

Jude is the youngest of four daughters whose parents are from Argentina. She decides to spend the last summer at home before college with her father, recently diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. When his old motorcycle resurfaces, Jude hopes that restoring it will keep the disease at bay. To help them with the restoration, Jude hires a handsome boy and finds herself quickly falling for him. Too bad he belongs to the one family Jude and her three older sisters have sworn off forever. Isolated from her high-school friends, Jude shoulders the full-time responsibility for Papi's care while trying to hide Emilio's true identity from her family. Eventually, the truth comes out, and Jude has to learn to let go of the past and of the things she can't control, and summon the strength of character to follow her own path.

Is it any good?

Thanks to Sarah Ockler's poignant writing and spot-on voice, our hearts flutter right along with Jude's as she writes her own entry in THE BOOK OF BROKEN HEARTS. But romance isn't the only cause of heartbreak. There are also changing friendships, family loyalty, and coping with disease, to name a few of the others. Ockler explores each with authenticity and warmth.

For the first quarter of the book, Jude comes across as a bit shallow and flighty, due mostly to a heavy hand with the superficial trappings of teendom. It doesn't last long, though, and we're soon shown a strong, admirable young woman. Her stubborn refusal to accept her father's condition and conflicted feelings about family loyalty, caused by her growing love for Emilio, will have readers of any age rooting for Jude's happiness.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why stories about forbidden love are so popular. Would the story of Emilio and Jude be as interesting or compelling if he wasn't from the "wrong" family? 

  • How much do you know about Alzheimer's disease? How does Jude cope with the changes it brings? Would you want to know if you carry the Alzheimer's genetic mutation? Would you make different choices if you knew for sure?

  • Have you ever taken an oath? Were you ever tempted to break it?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance and comin-of-age stories

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