In Jane St. Anthony’s third middle-grade novel, Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart, we join eighth-grader Isabelle Day as she navigates loss and friendship in the compelling coming-of-age story.
Isabelle Day wishes she could go back to her old life in Milwaukee, where she had two loving parents and a best friend since childhood. Instead, after her father’s passing, her mother drags them far away from his memory, all the way to a duplex in Minneapolis. Isabelle must learn to deal with the complex emotions pent up inside her, and she learns valuable lessons from the landladies who live downstairs and the tentative new friends she makes at school. In the end, Isabelle must wrestle with a simple truth: it’s okay to acknowledge your grief, as long you don’t let it consume you.
St. Anthony handles complex issues, such as suicide, sickness, and grief, with a balanced hand—making these problems accessible for young readers, but not glorifying or sugarcoating them. Isabelle’s grief and the struggle of living on after losing someone close is ever-present; however, the meat of the novel is in Isabelle’s self-conscious friendship with Margaret and Grace, pointing to the truth that life goes on, even after such a monumental loss.
Despite her younger audience, St. Anthony’s prose still manages to convey deep emotional truths. Passages like this one, spoken by one of the landladies, hint at a profound realization about loss and burying your sadness inside yourself: “‘The music found a little crack in me, and it dug into the hard knot of sorrow that had grown inside. I knew that I could always return to my sad moments, but I wouldn’t stay in them.’”
Jane St. Anthony’s latest novel embraces darker themes and a heavier plot, while also bringing in moments of levity—ever see a nun smoke a cigarette?—to create a realistic depiction of family dynamics and friendship through the eyes of a child who is facing mortality for the first time—Hannah Schultz