Green Valentine is one of my new favourite Australian YA books! This was such a fun read, I loved the characters, and the environmental themes were so great to see, especially in a YA book.
When Astrid and Hiro meet they give each other superhero names. She’s Lobster Girl and he’s Shopping Trolley Boy. Not an auspicious beginning. But it gets better. Then it gets worse. Much worse. Classic romantic comedy: girl-meets-boy, love blossoms, and is derailed. Incredibly engaging, upbeat, funny and smart.
Astrid Katy Smythe is beautiful, smart and popular. She’s a straight-A student and a committed environmental activist. She’s basically perfect.
Hiro is the opposite of perfect. He’s slouchy, rude and resentful. Despite his brains, he doesn’t see the point of school.
But when Astrid meets Hiro at the shopping centre where he’s wrangling shopping trolleys, he doesn’t recognise her because she’s in disguise – as a lobster. And she doesn’t set him straight.
Astrid wants to change the world, Hiro wants to survive it. But ultimately both believe that the world needs to be saved from itself. Can they find enough in common to right all the wrongs between them?
A romantic comedy about life and love and trying to make the planet a better place, with a little heartbreak, and a whole lot of hilarity.
First off, Astrid – the protagonist and narrator – was such a well-rounded character. She’s introduced as a smart and popular girl at school who’s always found the system easy, but I loved how the author both subverted and went beyond this.
Personality-wise, her judgemental nature, her flawed insistence on completely imposing her views and actions on others, her naivety, and her passion and determination were so clear from her voice. Adding to this, her family dynamics and the way she talked about the environment through footnotes in the book (which I really liked!) all had her brimming with personality.
Finally, her reactions and emotions when she faced complications – with Hiro, and her plans for the environment – were all well-written and relatable. It’s a real testament to the author that I connected this strongly to a character so different from me in so many ways (though not all) and it was heartening to see her change and learn by the end of the story.
Hiro, the other main character and the love interest, was great. He was also incredibly well-developed — I loved the little rambles he went on about society to Astrid in the beginning, he made me smile and laugh so many times, and his dynamics with Astrid were so fun and unique to read (talking about superheroes! Saving the world!). I liked how the issue set up of Astrid hiding her real self, and Hiro’s reaction to that, were addressed naturally early on rather than dragged out, so the story could move on to more interesting things.
Hiro’s half-Japanese and half-Italian, which I generally feel was done well — I really loved the scene where we met his Nonna, which was integrated into the story, and in a positive way. There could’ve been more depth with this though, potentially through cultural details.
The supporting characters and overall diversity
I liked the supporting characters of Dev and Paige, though they could have been developed more, especially Paige. Dev is Indian and gay, and his relationship developments/history was woven into a subplot regarding Astrid’s relationship with her friends, so that was interwoven nicely in a natural way. To wrap up on the characters and diversity: I am well aware and do agree that it’s far from ideal for POC/queer characters to always be on the side, supporting the cishet white protagonist, as it is in Green Valentine. But for what it represented, I was mostly happy with how the book represented incidental diversity; and it avoided being tokenistic, which I appreciated.
The environmental themes and plot
This was what really attracted me to the book at first, because an environment-focused book is such an important issue and a refreshing thing to see in YA. This was really, really well done — all the environmental facts were delivered naturally and in Astrid’s authentic voice, so it was seamlessly woven into the story and didn’t feel didactic at all. The details of gardening, which I knew little about, were also woven into the story in a really enjoyable way and never felt bogged down.
As the plot progresses, this was a source of connection between Astrid and Hiro as they begin ‘bewildering’, or ‘guerrilla gardening’, in order to improve Valentine, and later face a group of more genuinely extremist hippies regarding the environment — all of which were fascinating, increased the stakes and conflict as the story went on, and made me think about environmental issues in different ways. And though they were slightly predictable, I was also really satisfied by the way things were wrapped up.
- There was a really fun, light-hearted tone throughout the whole book which I really enjoyed
- Valentine was a really fun and detailed setting
- Astrid’s family issues were fleshed out and well-depicted, and I liked how empathetic the portrayal of her parents was
Overall: Green Valentine was a fantastic book and I definitely recommend it, especially if you’re looking for light-hearted fun and are interested in the environmental themes. Be ready to fall in love with the characters.