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May 5, 2011

Book Notes - Kim Culbertson ("Instructions for a Broken Heart")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

As she did with her debut, Songs for a Teenage Nomad, Kim Culbertson once again has produced a smart and entertaining young adult novel. Instructions for a Broken Heart is filled with interesting and complex characters facing the truly credible dramas of high school life.

Eireann Corrigan wrote of the book:

"Instructions for a Broken Heart transported me--to Italy, back to high school, to the wrench and ache of a first breakup and the exhilaration of self-discovery...with multifaceted characters and realistic complexities, this unforgettable novel is a journey I'm so glad to have taken."

In her own words, here is Kim Culbertson's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Instructions for a Broken Heart:

My first young adult novel Songs for a Teenage Nomad truly centered around music, and while Italy becomes more of that center in my new YA novel Instructions for a Broken Heart, music once again played a special role both in the novel and in the writing of the novel. My main character, Jessa, has an iPod full of her favorite songs and she sets off to Italy on a school spring trip in the wake of a painful break up. Oh, and her ex-boyfriend is also on the trip. With the new squeeze. So Jessa especially needs not just her music but that beautiful, transformative power of travel. And lots of gelato.

Like music, travel can transport us, transform us. Somehow, a new song on the iPod or a new view out a window can really force us to think, to take stock of our lives. In Instructions for a Broken Heart I wanted to showcase that transformative quality of art, of beautiful things, of new views – the way beauty, in its many forms, can heal us.

These are ten songs that I feel really embody Instructions for a Broken Heart:

"Seasons of Love" from the Rent soundtrack

It doesn't matter how many times I hear this song, I love it each time. And most often, I totally cry when I hear it. "Measure your life in love." 525,600 minutes. One year. A year before Jessa sets out on her Italian journey riddled with heartbreak, she had just started her relationship with Sean. Fast forward one year, and we find Jessa sitting in the Pantheon watching Sean cuddle his new girlfriend. Jessa's humming this song to herself, realizing not only how much can change in one year, but how every minute can bring new things. I love this song: it's pretty, sad, hopeful. It inspires me to try to measure my life in love.

"Terrible Vision" by Rhett Miller

I was on a huge Rhett Miller kick while writing this novel. I really love his songwriting and the energy of his music. The opening line of this song is great: "I had a dream I was employed at my old position as your second string." In the novel, Jessa definitely feels like she's been benched, and let's be honest, how many of us at some point or another have felt like someone's second string? I know I have. It sucks. But what I love about this song is that the speaker is totally calling this other person on the issue: you have terrible vision if you don't see that I love you. Because sometimes, it's just about paying attention to the love you have.

"On My Own" from the Les Miserables soundtrack

Jessa totally sees herself as the Eponine of this novel. The scorned. The discarded. The unloved. This is just the ultimate throw yourself a pity party song. In high school, A friend and I used to play this song over and over when our hearts were hurting for the boys who weren't noticing us. Total angst. Love it.

"Breakable" by Ingrid Michaelson

My friend Kirsten made me a mix of songs to listen to while writing this book (everyone should have a friend like Kirsten, my own personal d.j.). One of them was an Ingrid Michaelson song and it made me go buy the CD. I must have played this song a hundred times during the writing of Instructions for a Broken Heart. I love what it says about "girls and boys" and how fragile we all are. All of us. The one who gets hurt but also the one who did the hurting. We are all "breakable girls and boys" and our hearts are perhaps the most breakable, the most at risk.

"Don't Stop Believin'" from the Glee Soundtrack

Okay, it's Journey. And the Glee kids. I'm totally in love and hopeful. ‘Nuf said.

"American Television" by Ben Lee

"Give me joy; give me emotion. I can't wait. Change the program." This song speaks so directly to the expectations we have around love that have been crafted by the media. With Instructions for a Broken Heart I partly want to ask the question: can another person tell us how to get over someone? There are all of these sort of generic break-up standards. Eat a pint of ice cream. Tear up a bunch of his/her stuff. And I think media definitely perpetuates the whole, "you broke my heart, you bastard," type of response (which, of course, is a totally understandable feeling). But ultimately, what can each relationship teach us, show us about our own accountability? - so that we're true to the natural arc of the break-up, not one commercially designed.

"If I Were A Boy" by Beyonce

I love this song. I think it completely encapsulates how Jessa's feeling – so damaged by this boy who has seriously misplaced his sensitivity chip. Plus, Beyonce's voice just makes me want to be a better person.

"Question" by Old 97s

Again with the Rhett Miller. What can I say, I like the guy. This is perhaps my favorite of his songs. I know that many people interpret it as a guy proposing and I'm sure that's probably pretty accurate. This song reminds me, though, that the important people and events in our lives ask us "questions we should say yes to" and often these aren't romantic questions. For Jessa, I feel like Italy itself asks her a lot of questions she should say yes to, and ultimately, her own future asks her a pretty big question.

"Okay" By KaiserCartel

This song sounds like heartbreak to me, sounds like a person trying to move on who isn't ready, who feels betrayed. I also just love the notion of the speaker sort of just lying his or her way through the process. How are you? Okay.
But not really.

"You and Me" by Elizabeth and the Catapult

This is just hands down one of my favorite songs right now. She just nails the whole point of my book in about two lines (so jealous of songwriters! What takes us novelists a whole book to say, you just waltz right in and sum up in two lines!). I especially love the line "I'm dressed like a present that's no longer wanted…I'm brokenhearted." But the real energy of this song, the main connection I felt to my book was this idea that in the end we can have a bunch of other people weigh in on our relationships and our decisions but it's always just about "you and me" – the two people in that specific relationship. Everyone else, well, they don't really get the final say.

Kim Culbertson and Instructions for a Broken Heart links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Addicted 2 Novels review
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell review
Fragments of Life review
GalleySmith review
Girl About Books review
I Swim for Oceans review
Michelle and Leslie's Book Picks review
Princess Bookie review
The Reading Fever review
With a Book review
Young Adult Books Central review

Anna's Book Blog interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Songs for a Teenage Nomad
With a Book interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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