Author: Stacey Lee
Find the author: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest
Also by this author: Under a Painted Sky, Outrun the Moon
Publication date: December 27th 2016
Format: eARC from publisher (thank you!)
From critically acclaimed author Stacey Lee, an evocative novel about a teen aroma-expert who uses her extrasensitive sense of smell to help others fall in love—while protecting her own heart at all costs—perfect for fans of Lauren Myracle and E. Lockhart.
Sometimes love is right under your nose. As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of weeding, mixing love elixirs, and matchmaking—all while remaining incurably alone. For Mim, the rules are clear: falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school experience with friends, sports practices, debate club, and even a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice you can make.
At once hopeful, funny, and romantic, Stacey Lee’s The Secret of a Heart Note is a richly evocative coming-of-age story that gives a fresh perspective on falling in love and finding one’s place in the world.
Review: The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee
The Secret of a Heart Note follows Mimosa and her mother, the last two aromateurs in the world. They are perfume specialists with high senses of smell who traffick in love – that is, love elixirs and potions.
With this power, though, comes great responsibility. Mim and her mother must adhere to a lot of rules: to help everyone who needs help with love (within reason). To not accept payment for their services. To not divulge their secrets. And to do everything in their power not to lose their nose – including eating only bland foods, spending all their time learning about the properties of plants, taking care of their garden, and worst of all, not falling in love themselves.
Of course, the last bit is the part that we know Mim is going to struggle with. But despite the love theme of the book, author Stacey Lee is careful not to make it the focus of the plot. Instead, she focuses the book on the relationship between Mim and her very strict mother and the fact that Mim is one of the first aromateurs to go to regular high school.
Mim is desperate to have an existence outside of her nose, and this causes all sorts of problems. Kids avoid her at school for being a love witch. She can’t have a crush on the boy she likes. She accidentally douses the wrong person at school with a love elixir.
Stacey Lee’s other two books, Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon, have complex and rich descriptions, and this one is no different. I really enjoyed The Secret of a Heart Note and how fully realized all of the characters were.
Even though the synopsis reads like a light contemporary, Lee does not hold back on the complexity of the characters. Mim is desperate to both be a regular teenager, and to not disappoint her mother. But she is also tired of being the odd one out in school and frustrated by others taking advantage of her. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s also a subplot involving a character being blackmailed into coming out, and another about the secrets of Mim’s own family. Mim is dealing with so much in this book, and I really felt for her.
Mim’s mother is hard on her, but when you see what she’s dealing with…you understand why Mim’s mother is so keen on her daughter not having distractions. The stakes of Mim’s problems involve other people’s lives, and it’s a pressure that a lot of teenagers might not be able to take.
I appreciated that The Secret of a Heart Note never took an easy way out in terms of moving the plot. There were very few moments of coincidence or deus ex machina. Instead, events unfolded through the characters’ motivations. Problems resolved naturally. And because of that, every character was interesting – secondary or otherwise.
Let me just squee a little and say the romantic relationship in this book is cute, swoony, and well-earned. Even though it’s a bit obvious how the romance will play out, I liked the twist in the forbidden relationship. Because Mim’s very existence involves working with scents, she carries a residue that makes people unnaturally fall in love with her. Not only does this lead Mim to hilariously remedy the situation (with a spritz from her “Boy Be Gone” potion), it also makes her distrustful of anyone who might be interested in her. This, of course, gets more complicated when she actually likes a boy.
If I have a complaint, it’s that the book had so much backstory and such complexity that it took me a really long time to get into it. The first third of the book is heavy on exposition. There were a few moments where I lost interest just because there was so much to explain.
Still, this is a fun contemporary that belies the deftness of Lee’s plotting, and the emotional weight of the book. One of the most well-thought-out YA books I’ve read in awhile.
Botanical History and Aromachology: Even though The Secret of a Heart Note is sort of magical – as far as I know, aromateurs aren’t real – there is definitely a feeling that Lee has done some deep research into aromachology and history. Each chapter starts with a quote from a “famous” aromateur, and the quotes, along with the inventive mythology and background in the meanings of plants, grounded this book its own history.
I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar: With a backstory that aromateurs are only women, it’s no wonder that The Secret of a Heart Note is pretty feminist. This is a female history that celebrates women and their ability to do it all. In order to continue the aromateur line, Mim’s mother chose to use a sperm donor and raise Mim solo. It’s empowering to see all the women in this book owning their power – and I don’t mean just the aromateurs.
Gardening: If you know me, you know I love flowers and gardening. So I completely fell for all of the descriptions of plants and all of the different scents and meanings. If you’re into plants, I’m pretty sure you’ll appreciate this novel.
Book Theme Song:
Strangely, this is the first album I thought of when I was coming up with a theme song, even though I didn’t know if there was a song that really worked. Luckily, I was right in thinking that Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs would have an element of nature and the five senses in their song lyrics. And I love that it’s about that longing to live, and changing minds.
Just in the moment
My dark disposition
Has been rearranged
And all the greens of June
Come blowing through the door
They make me want to live
Like I never have before
And lilacs in the vase
Still got the life
By their witnesses
Perfume and light
The Final Word:
The Secret of a Heart Note is a sweet contemporary with a dash of magical realism. This is a book for anyone who likes the familiar “chosen one” narrative in a more contemporary context. I’m not usually a huge fan of fantasy, but with its well-developed characters, unique concept, swoony romance, and complex plotting, I couldn’t help but fall for Mim’s story. Throw in some perfume, gardening and flowers? I’m sold.
THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE is out in bookstores now. Will you be reading it? Do you like magical realism? Are you into perfume? Have you read any of Stacey Lee’s other fantastic books? Let me know in the comments!