I grabbed Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills mostly because it was on the new shelf at the library and it sets its action around a staging of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I LOVE that play, and I thought that Foolish Hearts might be a modern retelling of some kind, which I thought would be fun. It’s not a retelling, but it is still fun.
What’s it about?
In Foolish Hearts, high-school-senior Claudia does not quite fit in. She’s attending a fancy private school because she got a scholarship and is much poorer than her classmates. She’s more at home looking for bonus quests in her favorite MMORPG than she is doing any of the typical high school things, so she continuously feels like a hanger-on. Things change when she unwittingly (and, at first, unwillingly) finds herself spending time with Iris, who is notoriously difficult. It’s even more awkward considering that Claudia accidentally overheard Iris’ brutal breakup. Iris and Claudia, plus Iris’ ex-girlfriend Paige, the charmingly over-the-top Gideon, and a spattering of other students put on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” meddle in each other’s lives, and try to figure out who they are.
What’d I think?
Overall, there’s more to like about Foolish Hearts than not. First and foremost, I love Iris. She is initially introduced like this:
[Iris is] “ruthless and unforgiving and, some would say, ill-mannered and incredibly unpleasant.”
Iris is difficult. She doesn’t like or know how to talk about feelings. She wears purple to a pink party just to spite people. She doesn’t necessarily think about what other people want. But as Claudia (and the reader) gets to know her, she gets more and more rounded out. There’s no miracle fix that takes her from difficult and rude to perfect and friendly, but there is some definite growth as she injects some empathy into the usual act; her journey, facilitated in large part by Claudia’s friendship, is the highlight of the novel.
Also, she’s an unrepentant fangirl, which is always a selling point for me. I also like the way that Iris bucks a lot of the negative stereotypes associated with fangirls: she is high achieving and politically savvy, and she fangirls over a boy band despite being a lesbian. In other words, fans aren’t all trivial, and being a fan is about more than just being attracted to someone.
On that note, there are all sorts of nice, nerdy shoutouts. There are several references to High School Musical and Harry Potter, and the prominently-featured MMORPG ties into the story quite well. I’m not really into that world myself, so I don’t know how accurate the descriptions are, but it Claudia’s gaming is a major bedrock of her relationship with her older brother Alex and her childhood best friend Zoe, and I really like those relationships. Claudia also bonds with Iris over a shared love for the boy band mentioned above. In fact, all the relationships are well done, and the supplementation of the deeper conversations with shared enthusiasm lends a realism to the relationships.