Title: This Rebel Heart
Author: Katherine Locke
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Published: April 5th, 2022 (Knopf BYR)
Synopsis: In the middle of Budapest, there is a river. Csilla knows the river is magic. During WWII, the river kept her family safe when they needed it most – safe from the Holocaust. But that was before the Communists seized power. Before her parents were murdered by the Soviet police. Before Csilla knew things about her father’s legacy that she wishes she could forget.
Now Csilla keeps her head down, planning her escape from this country that has never loved her the way she loves it. But her carefully laid plans fall to pieces when her parents are unexpectedly, publicly exonerated. As the protests in other countries spur talk of a larger revolution in Hungary, Csilla must decide if she believes in the promise and magic of her deeply flawed country enough to risk her life to help save it, or if she should let it burn to the ground.
Thank you to the publisher, Penguin Teen, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Set during the Hungarian revolution of 1956, This Rebel Heart tells the story of Csilla, a young Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust only for her parents to be murdered by the government. She and her aunt, her last surviving family member, plan to flee the country but her escape plans grind to a halt when her parents are unexpectedly cleared of the crimes they were executed for. As stirrings of a revolution begin in Budapest, Csilla must decide if she will stay and fight for what is right, even if it is for a country that she has never felt was truly hers.
The latter half of the twentieth century has never been a time period I’ve focused on too much for my historical fiction reads, but ever since I read I Must Betray You earlier this year, I’ve been curious to know more, which made this book a perfect addition to my reading list. This Rebel Heart was a beautifully written narrative with some excellent world building. It didn’t take long to grasp the background of the story and the descriptions were so vivid that it made it easy to visualize the events.
Csilla was a great main character, and her arc throughout this book was certainly an interesting one. It presents an astonishing story of a girl who used to do everything she could to fly under the radar and go unnoticed, struggling through some extremely bleak situations, but persevering and eventually growing stronger and surer of herself to the point that she steps up to do what is right, joining the revolutionary cause.
Magical realism is a trope I’ve always struggled with, and though in this case it did add a certain unique touch to the story, all in all, it felt a little too bizarre and did not work for me at all. For some reason, I assumed that the river whispering to Csilla and Budapest drained of color was a metaphor, so it was a bit of a shock when it turned out to be an actual fantasy element. The pacing wasn’t the best either, but it did pick up eventually, albeit well over 60% into the book when the action finally started.
Overall, this was a pretty good read even if some elements of it weren’t to my liking. I did however like the ending and how it was left open to interpretation in a way – though I suppose if you’re familiar with the history, you can probably take a logical guess at it. The author has done an excellent job conveying the more heavy subject matter in a manner fit for a YA novel, making it an engaging read that I would definitely recommend.
This Rebel Heart releases on April 5th, 2022.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
All quotes in this review were taken from an advance reader’s edition and may differ from the final version of the book.