Reviews /

My Teeth in Your Heart

Authored by Joanna Nadin
Published by UCLan Publishing

Tagged , ,

My Teeth in Your Heart is a compelling YA romance set against the backdrop of the 1974 invasion of Cyprus and its aftermath. We alternate between two stories: 17-year-old Anna in 1974 who lives in Famagusta with her British expat family, and 17-year-old Billy (female) in 2024 who lives in Cambridge. Both have complicated relationships with their parents and are seeking new experiences: Anna plans to study at Cambridge but ends up falling in love when she starts working in a bookshop in Varosha; Billy, meanwhile, has fallen out with her closest friend Cass by sleeping with Cass’s crush, Harry. After the death of her grandmother and the discovery of a secret diary, Billy joins her family on a trip to Cyprus to scatter her ashes and finds herself questioning everything she thought she knew about her family’s past.

Anna’s chapters are written in third person, with a strong sense of place; Billy’s are written in first-person, and her voice is smart, sassy, sardonic and ultra-contemporary, filled with references to Heartstopper, vegan Magnums and CAMHS waiting lists. This contrast works well, allowing us to connect with Billy and feel just slightly more detached from Anna, reflecting the decades separating us from her. Initially, the novel reads rather like a rom-com, with a Mamma Mia-style ‘who’s daddy?’ mystery at its heart (as her previous novel, A Calamity of Mannerings, demonstrated, Joanna Nadin is a skilled comic writer). However, darker themes soon start to intrude, including rape and the growing threat of a war whose legacy still remains today.

Unlike Elif Shafak’s The Island of Missing Trees which is set during the same conflict (and also alternates between past and present), Nadin mainly covers this war from the Greek rather than Turkish Cypriot perspective, and spends much more time on the build-up to the war than the war itself. This reflects her aim in writing the book, as explained in the afterword: ‘I have attempted not to take sides; there is fault in all camps. Instead, I have tried to write a sort of love letter: to what was once a vibrant suburb and is (at the time of writing) a beautiful, if derelict, shell’. I believe she has succeeded in this aim, taking an even-handed rather than partisan approach to this conflict and focusing more on its devastating effects.

This is definitely a book for mature KS4 readers upwards – as well as a lot of swearing, there is a fair amount of sexual content, along with references to alcohol and drugs. The more distressing scenes are handled sensitively, and older teenagers will find this an enjoyable, moving and illuminating read, exploring a major 20th-century conflict of which many may have been previously unaware.