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Radio 2 Book Club - Where the Heart Should Be

The next book to be featured on the Zoe Ball Radio 2 Book Club is Where the Heart Should Be, the thought-provoking and moving new novel by Carnegie Medal winning author Sara Crossan. The book is released on 14 March and you can listen to the full interview with Sarah and Zoe on BBC Sounds.

We have an exclusive extract available for you to read, and we have a set of 10 copies to give away to one lucky book club!

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Where the Heart Should Be

Ireland, 1846 Nell is working as a scullery maid in the kitchen of the Big House. Once she loved school and books and dreaming. But there’s not much choice of work when the land grows food that rots in the earth.

Now she is scrubbing, peeling, washing, sweeping for Sir Philip Wicken, the man who owns her home, her family’s land, their crops, everything. His dogs are always well fed, even as famine sets in. Upstairs in the Big House, where Nell is forbidden to enter, is Johnny Browning, newly arrived from England: the young nephew who will one day inherit it all. And as hunger and disease run rampant all around them, a spark of life and hope catches light when Nell and Johnny find each other.

This is a love story, and the story of a people being torn apart. This is a powerful and unforgettable novel from the phenomenally talented Sarah Crossan.

Selection panel review

The book was selected with the help of a panel of library staff from across the UK. Our readers loved Where the Heart Should Be – here are some of their comments:

“The book was written as a long poem, the language was beautiful but spare and the story flowed effortlessly, an evocative story of love and tragedy. The story of the potato famine was quite horrifying but the love story gave balance and hope. I really loved this book and feel it’s important because shines a light on a shocking period of relatively recent history that needs to be heard and also shows that poetry can be a powerful way of telling a story.”

“I was never a big fan of novels written in verse until I read one of Sarah Crossan’s previous books so I approached this one with hope rather than scepticism this time round and I wasn’t disappointed. I always assumed I would notice the poetry too much and it would detract from the story but you just stop noticing the format after a while as you get engrossed in the characters and their plight. The subject matter of the Irish potato famine is enough to draw your interest but the way in which it is written is so clever and each part is so short that all of a sudden you realise you’ve read the whole book in one sitting and are left quite disappointed that it is finished. You also really get a sense of the time in which it is set and the hardship endured by the local people in the face of the harshness and unforgiving nature of the English landlords. This is a great novel and would be a good discussion point not just for the topic but also because of the poetic format, it would also challenge those who don’t like poetry to view it in a different way just like it did for me.”

“I loved this book. The structure – almost a blend of poetry and a rush of conscious thoughts worked really well. There is a breathlessness to the writing that brings emotions to the fore. I felt the despair of the tenants as the potato crop failed and the landlord had no sympathy. The doomed love story seemed fresh and even the minor characters – like the cook became my friends as I read it. Bell’s relationship with her parents was so well drawn, I cried with her as she finally railed both with and against her Dad. The format might initially put people off so I think a book group recommendation would draw people into reading this who might not have tackled. It. It is written with a lightness of touch that means it deals with a difficult situation with a page turning touch. I can’t wait for my book group to be able to read it.”

“This is a stunning and breathtaking book. Poetry is not something I would typically pick up but, this lyrical and methodical work of fiction was stunning. Set out in the structure and style of a poem, Where the Heart Should Be is a gripping and fast paced tale of the potato famine in Ireland. A story of betrayal, love, loss and denied love, and grief, this was an incredibly emotive and moving read. Written across seven parts during 1847, we learn of the disease and rot that affected the potato crops leaving a people destitute and desperate against the rich, gentrified class. An all-consuming read which I was sad to see end. This book helped me to better understand the history of the potato famine and the detrimental impact it had on the people of Ireland. A fascinating and almost personal insight into the famine and what people did to survive.”

About the author

Sarah Crossan has lived in Dublin, London and New York, and now lives in East Sussex. She graduated with a degree in philosophy and literature before training as an English and drama teacher at the University of Cambridge. Sarah was the Laureate na nÓg (Ireland’s Children’s Literature Laureate) from 2018–2020.

A word from Sarah

“I’m over the moon that Where The Heart Should Be is a choice for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club! I have always been in book clubs (that’s how I eventually managed to read and enjoy Faulkner!) and know first-hand how inspiring and life-affirming they can be, how surprising too. I am boundlessly grateful to The Reading Agency and librarians for recommending this latest book I have written. Librarians are devoted to finding and celebrating all stories, and they should be applauded at every opportunity for their contribution to a culture of democracy. Libraries were where I found books as a child and now, as a mother, I take my daughter regularly to our local library so she can explore. We often come home with two whole bags of books. 
This novel took me twelve years to write, and there were times I wanted to throw in the towel, but this book club news has made me feel overjoyed to know there had been a place for a novel like this all along. It’s a story set during the Irish famine, or Great Hunger, and being an Irish person living in the UK I knew I could present a unique perspective on the history. It’s a love story but also a sad story in some ways, with lots of chinks of light which I hope readers will cling to. I also hope readers will continue to cling to their libraries.”

Get involved

Tune in to the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show for the latest Book Club updates, and listen to the full-length interviews on BBC Sounds.

Have you read Where the Heart Should Be? Or any other books by Sarah? You can share your thoughts with us on Twitter using #R2BookClub and you can also follow Sarah.

Planning to buy Where the Heart Should Be for your group? Buy books from Hive or from and support The Reading Agency and local bookshops at no extra cost to you.

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