I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve always seen perfumers as extraordinary creatures who can see colors and hear music in scents. The Secret of a Heart Note has a fascinating premise of perfumers who have a super sense of smell and can create love elixirs to bring lovers together. Mimosa, or Mim, is a teenage “lovewitch” from a long line of predecessors who all have the ability to smell a herb from miles away and more amazingly, emotions! She’s been living with her single mother all her life in a dreamy house surrounded by orchards and gardens. Despite her growing success in the family business, Mim becomes increasingly dissatisfied with her situation: strict mother who only seems to care about Mim’s nose + non-existent love life despite being a lovewitch. When she becomes friends with Court, the dashing soccer star at school, Mim begins to wonder if she actually want the future she always desired.
I love Mim. She’s just a quirky, socially awkward, and anxious little bunny. She has to cover up from head to toe because she randomly attracts boys with a touch because she works with aphrodisiacs all the time, and she has to spray them with Boy-Be-Gone (BBG) to dis-enchant them. I really love this cute, ironic detail, because of course the girl who least wants love interests has boys flocking towards her. When she makes a big-time mistake administering an elixir to a wrong target, Mim’s determined to concoct the obscure, extremely difficult “UNDO” potion without her mother knowing. Although I just want to forcibly tell her “of course your mom would still love you and won’t throw you into a dungeon because you messed up”, I can relate to that sense of wanting to slap a band-aid on a gaping, gushing wound and hoping nobody notices (in this case, a madly-in-love ex-Miss California/Court’s mom). Mim lives in constant worry she would lose her sense of smell when she falls in love and triggers the lovewitch hex. Even while she’s running around gathering herbs and fighting her attraction to Court, Mim has an optimistic sense of humor that cracks me up from time to time and makes me root for her throughout the book.
Okay, so Court is a Golden Boy and seriously are they as bountiful IRL as they are in fictional worlds? I sincerely hope not *going to check out the real world*. BUT, I’m not as annoyed with Court as I usually am, because there are some redeeming qualities. First of all, he is sweet to Mim when others give her a wide berth, and secondly, he genuinely cares about his mom and sister. When he knows what Mim has done to his mom, he joins Mim on her quest for mysterious, exotic herbs and flowers, hoping to repair any damage this misadventure has caused his mom. His romance with Mim is slightly insta-love and over the top, but I actually enjoyed it. Minus a few times I want to slap him (wait no that’s violence).
Besides the two lovebirds, I like Mim’s mom and aunt who are twin sisters. It’s kind of funny how Mim’s mother can be a stereotypical mom even though she’s a super-awesome lovewitch. Mim’s relationship with her mom is sometimes painful to watch but always realistic. Mim’s aunt, on the other hand, is totally the laid-back, cool aunt who eggs you on to do stupid, forbidden things. The difference between the twin sisters is kind of cute. Now, back to the twins. Although they were both lovewitches, Mim’s aunt left them when she fell in love and lost her sense of smell and moved to Hawaii, which apparently is at the edge of the world, because Mim’s mom didn’t go visit her for twenty years. Some ginormous misunderstandings between she and her twin made Mim’s mom to be extra-protective of Mim, and when the two sisters make up and start quibbling again, it’s one of my favorite scenes of the book. #siblings.
The setting is in sunny Northern California. Fruit trees and flowers and surfing and muchly gardening. So very carefree and magical. I don’t envision witches living in California, and the contradiction is quaint and pleasant. There’s a satisfying amount of diversity that’s nicely incorporated into the story and doesn’t try to shove its righteous multifariousness in your face. Nice! The concept of each emotion having a smell is also super-fantastic for me, like anger smells like burnt rubber, disdain like dirty bath-water, and love like butterscotch pudding.
The plot mainly revolves around Mim making mistakes after mistakes both in her career and her relationships. The book is whimsical and fun, but there are also some serious stakes, like ruining someone’s love life forever or quashing her own livelihood if she loses her sense of super-smell. It touches upon serious issues like choosing your future path instead of following others’ will or even your own talent. It also discusses whether we should help others the way we deem fit or simply because we could. Sometimes we overrate our ability to reform the lives of others and end up doing more harm than good.
On the whole, The Secret of a Heart Note has an enchanting premise, endearing and quirky characters, and tons and tons of scents and fragrances. If you’re like me and enjoy perfumers and smells in general, The Secret of a Heart Note is absolutely worth your time.
Note: I’m going to try Stacey Lee’s other historical fiction, like Under a Painted Sky!
The Secret of a Heart Note
by Stacey Lee
An evocative novel about a teen aroma expert who uses her extrasensitive sense of smell to mix perfumes that help others fall in love while protecting her own heart at all costs
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.