AUTHOR: Lillie Vale
CATEGORY/AUDIENCE: Young Adult/New Adult
GENRE: Contemporary, romance
RELEASE: March 19, 2019
PUBLISHER: Swoon Reads
LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Debut author Lillie Vale has gifted us with a sweet, light-hearted summer romance full of drool-worthy food, swoon-worthy kisses, and drama-packed friendships. Small Town Hearts is set in Oar’s Rest, a sleepy beach town, where our protagonist Babe Vogel lives in a lighthouse and sells baked goods at the local coffee shop. When Babe meets Levi, a sweet artist in town for a summer residency, she’s temped to break her own rule—to never date a summer boy.
Swoon Reads titles are always so fun to read, and this one was no different. Babe was such a lovable main character, and I enjoyed how independent she was. Her passion for baking was palpable, and I got so hungry reading about the treats she makes at the coffee shop. She loves her beach-town life, her friends, her lighthouse home, and her job. Babe is bi and has been out for years, and her sexuality is never treated as the problem of the story; biphobia and harmful stereotypes are briefly addressed, but ultimately, this is a romance with a main character who just happens to be bi. Having a romance with a male character does not negate Babe’s queerness or make her less bi. I love and appreciate this rep so much.
While Babe is a character who knows what she wants, her love interest Levi isn’t so sure. His artistic skill has gained him an online following and commissions fast, but he doesn’t know if it’s his future. He feels caught between a desire to explore different passions, and what his parents want for him. Small Town Hearts is all about taking the time to find out who you are and what choices you have. I loved that Lillie Vale represented young adults who take non-collegiate paths and shows teen readers that there are non-traditional routes to success.
A driving force throughout the story is Babe’s fear of change in the face of adulthood. Babe wants nothing more than one last fun-packed summer with her best friends Chad & Penny before the two of them start college without her. But Penny’s decision to dump Chad, followed by a reckless and regret-filled kiss between Chad and Babe, leads to a colossal friend breakup. As Babe tries to piece back together their friendship, Lillie Vale perfectly captures how scary and painful it is to let go of the past and move forward. Although this novel is being marketed as YA, the independence of the main characters and the focus on transitioning to adulthood made it read more as new adult for me (though teens will certainly enjoy it!).
In addition to Penny, Chad, and Levi, there are so many vibrant supporting characters who truly made this book. I loved Lucy, Babe’s coworker at the local coffee shop, and her boyfriend Lorcan, who runs the local crab shack. There’s Elodie, Babe’s beautiful ex who is still coming to terms with her own sexuality. Even the sleepy beach town of Oar’s Rest itself feels like a character in the story; with a rich history, characters, and gorgeous descriptions, it truly becomes a real place.
Fans of Sarah Dessen, Katie Cotugno, and Maggie Ann Martin will love Small Town Hearts; it’s also a more light-hearted read-a-like for Ashley Herring Blake’s How to Make a Wish. It’s the kind of book that immediately transports you to summertime on the beach, and gives you all the warm fluffy feelings that Swoon Reads titles promise. But it’s also about guarding your heart, growing up, and learning to let others in. This book straddles the line between YA and NA, and would be perfect for recent high school graduates, but it could equally be loved by teens of all ages. Readers who want a sweet romance and enjoy a bit of friend drama will truly enjoy this debut, and should certainly keep their eye on Lillie Vale.
Thank you to Swoon Reads for the review copy. Follow Lillie Vale on Twitter to stay updated!