Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale: Atmospheric, Lyrical, and Romantic | Book Review

Title: Small Town Hearts

Author: Lillie Vale

Genre: YA Contemporary

Publisher: Swoon Reads

Published: March 19, 2019

Format: ARC

Rating: 5/5 stars

Rule #1 – Never fall for a summer boy. 

Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.
And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had – to never fall for a summer boy?

I am so ecstatic to say that Small Town Hearts is my first five-star read of 2019! I can’t think of a better book to share my birthday with.

I went into this book expecting to like it, but… my feelings go way beyond like. This book was such a beautiful and phenomenal read that took me places I wasn’t expecting to.

I’m fangirling so hard as I type this, so I’ll do my best to organize this into a semi-coherent review for you guys.

Oftentimes, I’m a lot more drawn to side characters than I am main characters, but Babe absolutely stole my heart in this one. Her voice is so strong. She’s confused about the future, unsure about the present, still coming to terms with all of her past, but I rooted for her the whole way through. I wanted to be BFFs with Babe (I also wanted her to be my personal chef).

Small Town Hearts follows Babe, recent high school graduate living in Oar’s Rest, a small beach town in Maine. She’s just graduated high school, has a job at the local coffeehouse, and is trying to understand the changes going on in her friend group… and her heart (awww).

This book is very much about making mistakes, taking chances, and being young. Babe definitely doesn’t have it all figured out. Most conventional YA characters want to go off to college, leave their hometown, get as far away as possible. Babe, on the other hand, doesn’t plan to go to college, and wants to live in Oar’s Rest for the foreseeable future. It’s so refreshing to read about a character who wants something different out of life.

In grappling with the future, she begins to reexamine and question her relationship with her friends, and where it can go now that they’re done with high school and headed in different directions.

All I wanted was for things to go on like they always had. There was safety in things staying the same. A year from now, five years from now, all I wanted was for us to be the same, doing things together, being the people we’d always been… I wanted what was certain. I wanted what was right now. Was that so wrong? Was it so unreasonable?

Even though this might at first seem like a book to take on vacation, trust me when I say that it takes you on vacation. This book works for any time of year. The rich imagery and little details in this novel really bring the setting of Oar’s Rest to life. I could go on and on about the atmosphere Vale creates. Very rarely have I seen such a well-crafted setting in a contemporary. Since when do I want to live in a New England beach town?

Okay, we have to address the romance. Talk about swoon. My heart was warm and fluttering every time there was a scene with Levi, Babe’s summer guy. Babe is very conflicted over her feelings. It’s clear from pretty much the first page that she likes him, but he’s a tourist, not a local, meaning that he’s going to be gone after the summer.

The ease of our friendship made it so easy to forget that he was a summer boy. Made it easy to let my heart get involved. Hearts were fickle things, always willing o beat for the exact wrong person… I had to harden my heart. I had to remember that Levi wasn’t mine to keep.

Still, she can’t help being drawn to him. She can’t pull herself away from him. I don’t blame her. Vale wrote of the best love interests I’ve read in a while: he’s sweet, caring, artsy, and open. I swooned from the first page, basically.

And guys, the food. Babe is a big baker, and every description had my mouth watering. Not to mention, since this is a seaside book, the many, many seafood descriptions were… delectable.

The next platter held snow crabs dripping in a garlic butter sauce, ears of grilled corn lightly coated with lime salt and paprika seasoning, and yellow baby potatoes.

Again, Vale’s flair for description was welcome, and appreciated. I was transported to Oar’s Rest as I read this book, and honestly, I never wanted to leave.

I really enjoyed the way that friendship was addressed in this book. It shows its ups and downs, and just because you love your friends, doesn’t mean you love everything about them. I adored the budding friendships with Lucy and Lorcan and the way Babe’s relationships with Chad and Penny were handled and resolved. Even seeing Babe’s interactions with her ex, who’s visiting for the summer, was interesting to me.

I can’t speak on the representation myself, but the main character is bisexual, and from what I’ve heard, this aspect is handled very well.

I could seriously go on and on about this book. What blew me away the most was definitely Lillie Vale’s writing. She is such a gifted writer, making this debut shine bright in the field of 2019 upcoming releases. This is one of those books that comes alive between your fingertips, the town of Oar’s Rest occupying a space in your heart, and I am so, so thankful to have picked it up.

It was all just so beautiful, and real. This book made me feel young and full of possibilities and wonder. It is such a special read. The stress of this semester has been weighing me down, but this book? It was like a breath of fresh air. I felt alive.

If this is her debut novel, I am beyond stoked to see what Vale does next.

I felt so full – more full than I had felt in my entire life. Full of experiences and happiness and hope. I clung to it greedily. I wanted so much life, wanted to swell up and just fly away, a balloon adrift in the sky. Away and away and away.

Small Town Hearts releases on March 19, 2019, from Swoon Reads.

All quotations are taken from an advanced copy of the book and may not match the finished edition.

Trigger warning: recreational alcohol and drug use.

Are you planning on picking up a copy of Small Town Hearts? If you weren’t, have I convinced you? If you’ve already read this book, what did you think? Tell me in the comments! 🙂

Stay bookish,


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4 thoughts on “Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale: Atmospheric, Lyrical, and Romantic | Book Review

  1. This is such a fantastic review, I love it so much when I can feel the love for a book while reading a review ❤ I loved Small Town Hearts so much just as well, Babe was such a great main character and yes, I absolutely loved how it tackled the complexities of friendships, too ❤
    Wonderful review! ❤


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