Zoe Whittalls Bottle Rocket Hearts comprises a journey through the unforgiving territory of the heart. Eve is a young woman in search of love and perfection, on the hunt for another heart like her own. She comes from a home that smells like oregano and brewed coffee and vanilla candles, but she is determined to tear through the curtain of what she regards as fake suburban security. Desperate to escape her parents narrow world, Eve falls in love with an older woman, Della, who is both seductive and steadfastly unfaithful. Against a backdrop of biker bombs and the Quebec referendum of 1995, eighteen-year-old Eve tries to figure out who she is and what she wants.
Her explorations of sex, independence, and politics are poignant and oddly naive. Everything I had was imperfect in some way she declares, yearning for the elegant dexterity of her gay friends. She moves in with a couple of roommates, Rachel and Seven, and their cat named Gertrude Stein. One of them is a stripper, one of them is HIV-positIve, and Eve is depressed by her own caution, her own yearning for comfort and monogamy. All of her friends are cooler, tougher, bolder than she is. Compared to Jenny, I was a cautious introvert. Compared to Seven, I was a great-grandmother. She is the one who looks innocent and child-like.
While strong teen spirit provides this novel with indubitable energy, the book trades too much on its patina of sex and swearing, recreational drug use, and the erotic space of want. Eves jealousy about Dellas many liaisons seems almost illogical, given how much she seeks to toughen her heart. Ultimately, then, this is just another disappointed love story, where one of the two pretends to be something she is not (Della), and the other falls wide-eyed into loves quicksand. The title of the novel is perfect: it is a dollar store bottle rocket, the kind that fizzles as it falls. Aritha van Herk
(Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada
"Bottle Rocket Hearts... is a coming-of-age tale that goes down like a cherry popsicle. It's a delicious, bright suburban delicacy melting in the inner-city sun.... Buy it, read it, and then keep it for you daughters." -- NOW Magazine
"Whittall has created characters who combine the luminous joie-de-vivre of Oscar Wilde with the self-destructive fury of Johnny Rotten. A portrait of Montreal in the mid-nineties that successfully recreates its hedonistic, Salvation Army band, gender-bending glory." -- Heather O'Neill, author of CBC Canada Reads-winning Lullabies for Little Criminals
"Zoe Whittall is so real. Her writing conjures up all the joy and toughness and melancholy of being a girl, elegant and scruffy at the same time, in the best way. She's awesome." -- Michelle Tea, author of Rose of No Man's Land
"Bottle Rocket Hearts is about coming of age, identity, politics, the nature of love and who constitutes family. Anyone who is different in any way will relate ... Whittall's background as a poet shines in every paragraph. Her poetic voice hits hard and with beauty ... Bottle Rocket Hearts is a compelling story told by a writer skilled in her craft. It leaves me wanting more." -- The Vancouver Sun, July 14, 2007
"Bottle Rocket Hearts is assured, gripping and sincere. [Whittall's] characters are richly detailed and wonderfully, quirkily vibrant. The people in this book jump out of the pages and into your heart ... Bottle Rocket Hearts is a delightful novel whose characters will stay in my thoughts for a long time to come." -- Xtra!, June 21, 2007
"Zoe Whittall might just possibly be the cockiest, brashest, funniest, toughest, most life-affirming, elegant, scruffy, no-holds-barred writer to emerge from Montreal since Mordecai Richler ... Bottle Rocket Hearts is a major statement about lessening unhappiness by overcoming the small dishonesties that creep into everyday life." -- The Globe and Mail, May 26, 2007
"Zoe Whittall's Bottle Rocket Hearts presents a mature, honest, and sophisticated portrayal of the lives of individuals belonging to Montreal's homosexual community during the 1995 Referendum in Quebec. As coming-of-age novels go, Whittall's on top of her game here, and she delivers a remarkably strong, sharp, and insightful addition to the ever-growing library of gay literature ... what sets her apart from other young Canadian writers is her ability to write an engaging story that wrestles with many complex and competing issues without demanding that the reader agree with any of her own personal politics ... her novel is successfully sincere and honest ... For those seeking strong characterization, engrossing storytelling, and thoughtful execution, Bottle Rocket Hearts delivers on all fronts. Whittall's characters are quirky, true to life, and fully capture the lifestyle of Montreal in the mid-nineties. Whittall's prose, while simple, paint's a vivid picture ... Her writing is clear, concise, and always captivating, and its simplicity is very much the reason for the novel's success: her portrayal of life is gritty and real, and while not without heart, it doesn't easily give way to sentimentality or cheap romanticism. A mighty good read." -- The Silhouette, July 13, 2007
"Zoe Whittall's debut novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, is an achingly good read, bringing moments of joy to the reader along with heartache and sorrow ... Bottle Rocket Hearts is full of sarcasm, name-dropping and style punctuated with a queer, feminist twist. This book comes alive for the reader and is a lovely coming-of-age story for women to reflect on and perhaps even relate to their daughters." -- The Calgary Herald, June 3, 2007