Based on the true story of two girls who fall secretly, deeply, and dangerously in love at boarding school in 19th century York, Learned by Heart is a heartbreakingly gorgeous novel from the bestselling author of Room and The Wonder.

Drawing on years of investigation and Anne Lister’s five-million-word secret journal, Learned by Heart is the long-buried love story of Eliza Raine, an orphan heiress banished from India to England at age six, and Anne Lister, a brilliant, troublesome tomboy, who meet at the Manor School for young ladies in York in 1805 when they are both fourteen.

Emotionally intense, psychologically compelling, and deeply researched, Learned by Heart is an extraordinary work of fiction by one of the world’s greatest storytellers. Full of passion and heartbreak, the tangled lives of Anne Lister and Eliza Raine form a love story for the ages.

“Bold and dazzling…Emma Donoghue has proven herself a masterful storyteller of historical worlds populated with deeply imagined characters. Though the universes she creates seem like they could expand infinitely, she builds small, confined spaces at the center from which grow rich possibilities. This is all especially true of Learned by Heart, a story of risk, love and two young women discovering themselves by way of each other…The language here—of deep friendship and longing, text and subtext—is captivating. Sentences sing, and details shine. Donoghue has a remarkable ability to hold you in a moment, allowing you to see as a character does, knowing the questions each breath contains…”
– BookPage

Don't just take our word for it...

“Donoghue’s affection for the savvy, strange Lister is obvious, and the author makes her teenage couple’s partnership both deeply serious and wonderfully naive…but the reader knows from the first page that their infatuation won’t last, and the novel is ultimately a tender, sad account of first love”
– Emma Sarappo, The Atlantic

“…unabashedly romantic, dreamlike….a wonderfully rich portrait of boarding school life, both a mirror of the outside world’s social hierarchies and a hothouse of complex interactions among girls striving to become women. As always, her narrative is grounded in sharp observation, strong characters, and nice period detail…a treat for her many fans.”
– Kirkus Reviews

Taste the very first page

Eliza’s trained herself to wake at seven, just before the bell.

She sleeps in a garret, too low to allow her to stand up except in the very middle, beside her narrow cot. None of the Manor School’s bedrooms have carpets that might trip the girls or hold dust, but this one is the barest; the floor unwaxed. Eliza rooms by herself, since Jane (two years her elder) refuses to board. Among so many pairs and trios of sisters—two Misses Parker, Peirson, Simpson, and Dobson, three Burtons, and a full five Percivals—Eliza is effec- tively an only child.

Of course having a room to herself could be considered a priv- ilege. No one else’s noises or smells to impinge on her; no one to break in on her thoughts or disturb her sleep. It might be a mark of the Head’s trust in Eliza’s good conduct. Respect for her fortune too? Perhaps her guardian, Dr. Duffin, even pays Miss Hargrave extra for this privacy; Eliza’s never mustered the courage to ask.

She catches herself in the mirror on the washstand. Of course she’s wondered whether Mrs. Tate—who sees to all housekeeping matters for her sister, the Head—was made nervous by her first glimpse of Eliza and chose to sequester her far from all the other boarders. A young lady of colour, though that common phrase irks Eliza, since everyone’s some colour or other. As little girls in India, the Raines rarely gave the matter much thought. But when they lurched off the King George in Kent, Eliza, at almost seven, felt…