Friday, January 29, 2016

"Heart in a Box" by Catherine Stine

Heart in a Box
by Catherine Stine

Heart in a Box by Catherine Stine is currently on tour with Chapter by Chapter Blog Tours. The tour stops here today for my review, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

For another book by this author, please check out my blog post on Dorianna.

Each heartbeat leads Joss closer a shocking truth that will change everything.
Joss Olstad wins the fight to switch from her private school to a public high to "find her pieces" she lost when the Indian artist father she never knew died. There, Joss struggles with a slutty friend, who flirts with her new love; Indian Culture Club girls who press her on her past, as well as her stoner mother’s lies back at home. Armed only with her handmade heart boxes that hold private messages, Joss’s search for identity leads her to a scary industrial section of Queens, and a shocking family secret that changes everything.

Thoughts on school veer off when I spot the box on my mother’s night table. The box. I know its black, lacquered form by heart. It’s the size of a large jewelry box. My father painted it with Bengali pink roses and a tangle of red cardinal vines. He must’ve used the tiniest brush, as if the objects inside were treasures—emeralds from Mumbai or silk doll clothes from Kancheepuram.
The box sits next to Mom’s organic remedies: tea-tree oil, Saint John’s Wort, aromatherapy ampules, zinc, monster-dose wheat grass capsules. She thinks these keep her functional. But I see how one accelerates her and the next slows her down, adding up to zero. The box is close enough she doesn’t even have to get out of bed in the morning. She can reach, with trembling fingers, light up and space out even before her first cup of black tea.
I crack open the box. Pre-rolled blunts sit like tainted royalty on a plush, purple pillow. Their sharp floral resin makes me sneeze.
Once when I was twelve, Mom offered me a doob after closing the store for the night. She claimed to be worried about how uptight I was getting. It was around the time when I was sprouting zits, boobs, hips and my period. Who wouldn’t be down in the dumps? Mom claimed that if I got stoned I might relax. “Cave women probably used it for cramps, before all these greedy pharmacists crawled on the earth, trying to sell Midol and Tylenol and—”
“Gee, thanks,” I snapped. “Are you serious? You want me to be a stoner too?”
“Darling, I want you to be less anxious, that’s all. I want you to be whoever you want to be,” Mom answered cryptically. “Look, weed is superior to all those anti-depressants shrinks prescribe to kids these days. It won’t poison your liver like Prozac. It’s organic.”
“Arsenic’s organic too,” I argued. Plus, some kids at my school would bounce off the walls without their so-called evil-shrink pills. But maybe I was too stiff.
Soon after, I opened the box, took one and lit up. After only two inhales, I felt trapped inside a thick glass room. Then, when I ventured down to the street for a soda, people seemed in a galaxy eons away. It scared me. I vowed not to try it again. How could my mother stand to feel so cut off? Or was it different for her?
Now, I run my hand along the box’s delicate rose vine and its two tiny painted birds. I consider it mine, though Mom’s never officially said so.
My father gave it to her during the three summer months she spent with him in India. But, getting the tale of her brief affair is as hard as squeezing juice from dried up fruit.
“Joss, if you must know, we swam with the hippies on Goa Beach,” she would always reply. “We traveled to the southwestern coast where a guru named Mata held court over her flock. She hugged hundreds of people a day. Imagine! Then, we trekked up to Munnar province. We watched mountain goats climb vertical ledges, and we drank cardamom chai until it practically spurted from our ears.” Mom always stops there. Her face loses expression.
“That’s so romantic. What did you feel, Ma? What was my dad like? Go on!” As much as she delights in conversation, she’s mum on that subject.
“He vanished after the third month, left me broke and hungry on the mountainside. He wasn’t a real father, just the seed provider. There’s nothing forgotten, darling, because there’s nothing to remember.”
“Of course there is! Why didn’t you guys get married? What happened?”
Mom insists I’m better off not knowing. For a new millennium hipster she’s as secretive as a CIA agent. There’s one thing, though. One detail that Dad’s relatives told her years later. One thing she told me.
A truck hit my father on Pondicherry Road, south of Chennai. His lifeless body lay there, crushed, all night, before someone found him.
So I have the box. The box is all that’s left of my father. I close the wooden lid and press my fingers to its lacquered top, imagining his cool, dark fingertips on mine.

Praise for the Book
"I loved reading Joss' struggles in trying to find out who she is and how this helped her bloom into someone she did not expect. It's all at once genuine, sweet, heart wrenching, and wondrous. Sensational characterization and a tremendously moving story. What a fantastic book for teens and adults. This should be on everyone's must read list!" ~ Christine Rains
"It’s an intense read, yet Stine makes sure to inject fun, spice, and adventure. The story unfolds in a way that keeps your interest and it has a very satisfying ending, which I really loved." ~ BookLover
"I loved the flow of this book and the up's and downs of life of a teenager and the difficulty of understanding adults. It's about growing up and the pains teenagers go through trying to find themselves and the secrets that parents keep from kids saying they are protecting the kids when they are only protecting themselves." ~ Kim Gayheart
"I found Heart in a Box to be a very heartwarming, positive story that was also edgy and real. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading YA fiction, especially if you like a good contemporary read!" ~ Holly B. in NC
"All in all, a lovely experience, I enjoyed reading Heart in a Box [...] Recommended to all readers looking for a different type of story that teaches as well as hooks." ~ Njkinny

My Review
When she is seventeen, Joss transfers from a Manhattan prep school to a Brooklyn public school, where she promptly falls in love-at-first-sight with William Torres and befriends the wild, blonde beauty Katya. Joss's Nordic mother is unconventional, to say the least, but she doesn't want Joss to follow in her wild ways and is very secretive about Joss's father. The only thing Joss knows about him is that he was Indian, and the only thing of his that she has is a hand-made, painted box. Joss makes a box of her own - a heart-shaped box - as part of a school assignment, and then she can't stop making them. This obsession sets Joss off on a quest to find out more about her father - in order to find out more about herself.
Joss is an extremely likable main character, with an interesting and touching story to tell. The author gives us an insight into the Nordic, Indian, Puerto Rican, and Russian cultures through the cast of ethnically-diverse characters, each of which could have a book of their own (hint, hint, Catherine); I'd love to learn more about William, Katya, Leela, and Trenton, as we are only given a glimpse of them through Joss' eyes. The author maintains a nice balance between sentiment and humor throughout, and the cute chapter titles add to the quirky charm of this book.
Charming and heart-warming, Heart in a Box will leave you wanting more.

About the Author
Catherine Stine writes YA and romance. Her novels span the range from futuristic to supernatural to contemporary. Her YA sci-fi thrillers Fireseed One and Ruby’s Fire are Amazon bestsellers and indie award winners. Her YA, Dorianna won Best Horror Book in the Kindle Hub Awards. She also writes romance as Kitsy Clare. Her Art of Love series includes Model Position and Private Internship (read my blog post). She suspects her love of dark fantasy came from her father reading Edgar Allen Poe to her as a child, and her love of contemporary fiction comes from being a jubilant realist. Visit her at and subscribe to her newsletter for news of releases, workshops and appearances.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win some great prizes: a $40 gift card, 2 hand-painted heart-boxes with secret treasure inside, a signed paperback of Dorianna by Catherine Stine, a signed paperback of Heart in a Box by Catherine Stine, a great YA ebook pack of novels: Tiger Lily by Wende Dikec, When Sorrows Come by Katie M. John, and Time Runs Away with Her by Christine Potter.