Colleen Mondor Reviews Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert

Our Crooked Hearts, Melissa Albert (Flatiron 978-1-250-82636-7, $19.99, 368pp, hc) June 2022. Cover by Jim Tierney.

Melissa Albert’s Our Crooked Hearts is a witch book that manages to be about teenagers finding their way, (and who to trust), while at the same time taking a long hard look at the often compli­cated relationships between parents and children. Granted, this particular parent/child relationship is more complex than most (magic will do that), but at its heart it is about secrets, lies, and broken trust. There are also more than a few dead rabbits (the rabbit murder is swift but ugly), a great guy, a jerk, a failed attempt at gaining power through the use of dark magic (pro tip: DO NOT DO THIS!), and some pretty serious truth-telling. The twist is the winner, though – it’s an exceptional turn of events and readers will delight in how effectively Albert’s tight plot comes together.

In the modern-day suburbs, seventeen-year old Ivy and her less-than-impressive boyfriend Nate (the jerk) nearly hit a naked girl stumbling around in the darkened streets while speeding home one night. They discover she is fine but deeply strange and appears to know Ivy. That weird encounter barely begins to settle in Ivy’s head when things take another bizarre turn days later with a mur­dered rabbit appearing on her doorstep. Then her mother begins to act very strange, along with her mother’s best friend (‘‘Aunt Fee’’). Both claim to be working but actually disappear, someone breaks into Ivy’s house and takes a bite out of her freshly made cookies, she discovers her parents have been hiding an odd collection of her childhood ephemera in a hitherto unknown wall safe, her father is evasive as hell, her brother keeps hinting about how weird their mother had always been, and the whole time the decent guy who lives across the street, who Ivy is certain she barely knows, acts like he knows her really well and maybe… maybe Ivy’s life, her whole entire freaking life, is not what she thought it was at all.

Interspersed with the chapters in ‘‘the suburbs’’ are others set decades earlier in ‘‘the city.’’ Those chapters are about Ivy’s mother, Dana, and her best friend Fee and the summer they and their friend Marion were teenagers and Marion found a body and a book, and of course she read the book, and they all became witches. As Ivy life comes apart in the present, readers discover just what happened in the past that compelled Dana to do some things she never thought she was capable of. It initially seems obvious who the villain is in all this, but then the shades of grey begin to appear and, well, readers soon can’t be sure of anything as everyone gets a lot more untrustworthy (which just makes the book that much more fun to read).

Albert is a tricky writer, a smart and decidedly wily writer, and she has crafted quite the ride with Our Crooked Hearts. This is one you will be turning pages not just to see if Ivy can save the day but also to see how this story is going to sort itself out. Rabbits will die, Ivy will prevail, witchy things will happen, a good guy will be found, and yes, a library is a significant location in the narrative, as it should be. (Really, this library is great, and I really want to know more about the dead woman who is found in it. If Albert wants to write a book about her life, I’m all in.)

Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website:

This review and more like it in the Sepetmber 2022 issue of Locus.

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