Published by Katherine Tegen Books on December 27th 2016
Source: Author Review Copy
Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
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An evocative novel about a teen aroma expert who uses her extrasensitive sense of smell to mix perfumes that help others fall in love while protecting her own heart at all costs
Sometimes love is right under your nose. As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of weeding, mixing love elixirs, and matchmaking—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 experience with friends, sports practices, debate club, and even a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice you can make.
At once hopeful, funny, and romantic, Stacey Lee’s The Secret of a Heart Note is a richly evocative coming-of-age story that gives a fresh perspective on falling in love and finding one’s place in the world.
Pandemonium, that’s what.
Mimosa has grown up surrounded by plants and aromas – basic components of aromateurs, who use their heightened sense of smell to direct the way of people falling in love. However, with that power comes rules that Mim will see inevitably broken throughout the course of this book. From the very beginning, we see the close relationship with Mim and her mother. They both deal with clients who are looking for a bit of unrequited love, and the potions – or elixirs – they use help the target fall in love as well, if the course dictates it. It’s a lovely concept that Lee writes effortlessly, including the rules like never dealing with heartbreak and the logistic side of it, like the fact that the aromateurs are under an organization that helps fund their projects. Either way, this tidbit of magical realism was a cute and light addition to the components of this book.
Such is the lot of an aromateur, sacrificing our needs for the common good. We’re not even supposed to have needs. Our noses are like nun’s habits, cloistering us to a life colored by chlorophyll. We can’t afford the luxury of letting our hearts slip.
In the beginning of the book, we see Mim try to balance high school and her aromateur duties, leaving her very little time. Readers already see a sense of tension between her and her mother, who wants her to focus on just being an aromateur. Mim wants to experience the teenage life though, and tries her best to keep up with studies and school despite her other commitments. This changes a bit when Mim starts interacting with one of the popular soccer players at school, Court. Soon enough, she starts getting distracted and messing up orders for their clients. And with that comes lots of problems that Mim has to deal with while her mother goes to Oman to collect some plants.
From the start, there’s a heavy implication that falling in love as an aromateur will get to nowhere. Mim’s mother reminds her that it happened with her aunt Bryonry, and she lost her sense of smell after running off with her now-husband. This has caused a strain in the relationship between these twin sisters, which Lee explores within the book. The romance is not insta-attraction or anything, but there is rather an awareness between the characters that develop rather quickly into an attraction and love. It’s really quite adorable, as Mim is known as the “love witch” at school and people tend to stay away from her. Meanwhile, Court’s the local jock of the school and has girls clamoring over him. Despite these differences, they work really well together as Mim tries to undo all the mistakes she’s made with the love potions.
Mim’s relationship with her friend Kali was a subject that I wanted more of, actually. Much of it was Kali dealing with her own problems – like the subject of coming out – while Mim was worried about her. The diversity in this book was great to see, and the author adds it flawlessly. Mim is actually a many mix of different ethnicities, while Kali is Samoan. The people at school that Mim interacts with range a variety of races, which was extremely realistic. I can’t wait to see more contemporary books from this author, as she’s only done historical fiction thus far, because she does a great job in honing in on the realistic elements of adolescents’ lives! I could almost see this happening in my own school, from the characters’ interactions to the various situations they find themselves in. Despite having a touch of magical elements, the book is super down-to-earth and Mim’s struggles were clearly relatable, whether you’re a teenager like she is or not.
In the end, Stacey Lee does it again with an amazing exploration of relationship dynamics, from mother and daughter to sister and sister to love interests, friendships, and everything in between. The characters all leap off from the page, even the ones that you would think fall into a character trope when first meeting them. The author writes an aromateur’s unforgettable journey in finding love, and the tangled path that this emotion has for each one of us looking out there for it.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thank you Harper Collins for the review copy!