• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of My Heart Went Walking by Sally Hanan

Hanan's 1980s Irish coming-of-age story is full of angst, secrets, life-and-death danger, youthful determination--and the feeling that everything is going to work out in the end.

You can't keep a secret in this town unless you leave with it.

Young Una has only ever loved one man, her best friend Cullen. But now Una has abruptly left town, left her family, left Cullen--she's left behind everything she knows in a desperate attempt to make things right by keeping her mysterious suffering to herself.

She questions whether she's doing the right thing, meanwhile various complications--including the discovery of Cullen's new affection for her sister Ellie--keep her out of touch and determined to stand on her own two feet, no matter how difficult it is.

But when tragedy looms for Ellie, Una and the boy who broke each other's hearts must try to come back together and save Ellie somehow.

Set in 1980s Ireland between Donegal and Dublin, My Heart Went Walking follows the sisters and Cullen as they try to find redemption, to forgive, and to move forward into their futures with hope.

I loved the details of daily Irish life and the heartwarming found-family element. Hanan explores the fascinating, infuriating condemnation surrounding--and delicate navigation of the challenges of--teen pregnancy in that time and place.

For much of the book I wasn't quite clear on the status of the characters' evolving romantic loyalties and preferences. Did Una and Cullen still love each other, or was their connection naive and without basis beyond friendship? Were their new partners better fits, as they seemed? We didn't get to see Una and Cullen together for much of the book, so it was impossible to evaluate the strength of their romantic connection for ourselves, and this felt unsatisfying.

There's a primary setup of "I can't tell you this enormous, life-changing fact, so I'll run away, leaving you wondering" that is essential to the story but can feel frustrating. I questioned how both Cullen and Ellie conveniently didn't ponder the likely scenario or ask more questions as soon as doing so was possible--questions that would have immediately revealed the truth of Una's situation. In the middle of the book especially I found myself wanting more specifics than summary. (I also had a few nitpicky questions, such as: why would Ellie need an explanation of a Claddagh ring? This brief exposition seemed clearly to be present for the reader's illumination.)

But I absolutely loved how Una was a strong, determined, gritty young woman in the face of so many enormous challenges. The found-family element of My Heart Went Walking was heartwarming and a favorite aspect of mine.

In My Heart Went Walking, Una, Ellie, and Cullen cope with grave situations and life-and-death struggles that threaten to tear them apart. Some of the book's resolutions feel conveniently clean, but the tone of Hanan's book is such that it feels evident that the reader won't be left unsatisfied or facing loose ends at the end, and I ultimately liked having everything wrapped up with a bow at the conclusion of Hanan's story.

My Heart Went Walking was published February 5. I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Fire Drinkers Publishing.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

If you love books set in Ireland, you might try Patrick Radden Keefe's powerful nonfiction Say Anything or the captivating novels The Searcher by Tana French and Normal People by Sally Rooney.