Heartbroken by Lisa Unger (♦♦♦♦)

Elderly matriarch Birdie Burke came from old money. She grew up going every summer to vacation on an island, in the middle of an Adirondack lake, nicknamed Heart Island after her family’s last name. Birdie’s siblings grew up resentful and wary of one another and when their parents died, after a bitter battle for the inheritance, Birdie kept Heart Island, which was the place she loved most in the world.

Birdie was an angry woman. Not only she was jealous of her parents’ affections for her siblings, but she also overpowered her husband and children in hurtful ways. Her tongue was like a sword. No wonder for the latest summer vacation her son Theodore didn’t want to visit the island. Kate, on the other hand, never said no to her mother’s request so she was always her victim, until now.

Kate has been planning a family trip to Heart Island, as every summer. Because of work, her husband Sean can’t travel with Kate, her daughter Chelsea, and Lulu—Chelsea’s friend—to upstate NY. Sean stays behind at home with their son Brendan, who has had a foot injury.

At the same time in New Jersey, the life of Emily, a waitress at a local diner called the Blue Hen, has collapsed due to her relationship with good-for-nothing Dean, a man with a rap sheet as a juvenile who hasn’t been able to keep a straight path since he lost his last job. Upon the visit to Dean of a criminal friend, they conceive a plan to rob the Blue Hen and bring Emily as an accomplice, only the robbery goes horribly wrong and now they’re running from justice.

Unbeknown to Kate, Birdie and the girls, these two criminals and Emily intrude on Heart Island and knock on the front door during a stormy night. Their lives will collide in unimaginable ways and only the strong will prevail.

I really liked Heartbroken by Lisa Unger. It is a fast read and completely absorbing. In fact I read the first hundred pages on the first day I started reading; it is that captivating.

I think this story would make a very creepy suspenseful movie because there are Hollywood-esque elements very prominently featured such as a stormy night in the middle of nowhere, a group of females cutoff from civilization, a robbery gone wrong, restless ghosts and deeply buried secrets from a generation ago.

As I said there are strong, good Hollywood-esque themes present in the plot, but there are corny ones as well, such as people popping up at “convenient” times in the story (e.g. a former FBI agent driving home in the night through a road in the middle of nowhere who gets carjacked and people who leave the boat keys in their boats), again, how “convenient”.

The characters and their dynamics in the story are very strong, very well outlined, particularly Birdie, the relationship between teen girls Chelsea and Lulu, and Heart Island, which I believe is another character in the story.

I liked the subplot involving a ghost but I don’t think that took a satisfactory turn in the end. I think that ghosts appear to finish a cycle and move on, not to linger aimlessly.

In summary, Heartbroken by Lisa Unger is a very suspenseful read with very successful plot twists. I strongly recommend it.