With a book like Loretta Ellsworth‘s In a Heartbeat, it’s inevitable: the reader’s own heart is going skip, pound, and flutter throughout the pages before it grows at the end.
When I first read a summary of this book I knew it wasn’t really my type and sort of dreaded reading it to be honest… don’t ya love/hate that? When your reading list is so long you feel like you’re swamped and can’t enjoy what you’re reading? As it turns out, this book was really good and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. It wasn’t nearly as hokey as books like this can sometimes be, and I would recommend it to a variety of ages and types of readers.
Eagan is a sixteen-year-old girl who loves and is great at figure skating. For the most part she’s just your average sixteen-year-old; an only child she argues with her mother who, as a former skater, pushes for the success she didn’t quite have. Eagan has just begun to cultivate a relationship with an older, popular boyfriend (somewhat against her mother’s wishes) and just might have a shot at being a serious competitive figure-skater. That is, until she lands a routine practice triple-lutz just a tiny bit off and pays for the mistake with her life.
Amelia is not a typical fourteen-year-old. Dependent on her loving and devoted mother for many things, Amelia’s heart is no good, hasn’t been for a few years, and continues to rapidly get worse. She was recently put on a donor list to receive a new heart and in her downtime, which is often, she loves to draw horses of all types in various scenes.
As you can surely imagine (and heck, if you can’t imagine it you can just read it in any overview of this book) Eagan’s death will result in Amelia receiving a new, healthy heart. What you likely can’t imagine is the emotional exploration this scenario brings forth in the characters and also in the reader. Eagan’s fatalistic feelings (she collected batteries and other things just in case of a ‘Y2K’-like incident) toward the world before her death and Amelia’s humble attitude and persistence in meeting her donor’s surviving family add a depth to this story that could otherwise fall flat. The chapters are written alternatively from the viewpoints of each girl. Cool, confident Eagan writes of her irritations with her mother and of the drama with the anorexic figure skater on her team until her death, which occurs very early in the book. Afterwards her character seems to be stuck in this limbo-like place where she questions who she was and where she’s going.
Amelia starts off expectedly as a feeble character who is unsure that she even deserves a heart that belonged to someone else. While many of us would like to say we’d be immediately happy to take a transplanted heart if we needed one, Amelia’s character seems to ground the reader by questioning why and how. Amelia knows that receiving a heart means that someone else had to die, and she struggles immensely with why she would be chosen to live when someone else should lose that opportunity. After the transplant Amelia begins to have some strange feelings and coincidences (some of which I found a bit cliche, some of which I felt could have been developed more) like suddenly loving the color purple and beginning to develop harsh feelings towards her mother. When Amelia’s desire to learn more about her donor have her developing a relationship with the family the book reaches a climax in both character’s stories, and I found myself (previously somewhat uninterested in the book) unable to stop turning the pages. Amelia changes and grows right in front of my eyes and her revelations and attitude and ideas had me believing that her character was based on someone the author knew personally. Likewise pre-death Eagan had a certain air about her that made her a very strong character, and after her death she seems to be swirling in a downward spiral until she lands somewhere where she can find herself and make peace with things.
Both girls develop and the seriousness of their stories makes this book a heart-warmer after it has the reader emotionally all over the place. The secondary characters, such as the parents, boyfriends, friends, and a few other people are nicely written right into their place in the girls’ stories. Each mother has a strong personality but the book clearly isn’t just about mother-daughter relationships. The discussion of transplants and cellular memory are serious things but also very interesting, both to people who’ve dealt in one way or another with transplants but also to people to whom the idea of obtaining characteristics or traits from a donor is completely foreign. It certainly led to some interesting Google searches for this reader. One thing the author did that I just love is she incorporated the ‘heart’ theme into the book very well. There were places the author simply used the word heart but also places where simple movements the characters made, words they used and things they did that made allusions to this theme. For example, Eagan talks at one point about a ritual she does before a practice or performance where she touches the ice as she comes onto the rink; she describes how most people would think ice is just ice, but how as a skater she likes to physically feel the differences, how each skating rink actually has its own heartbeat. While this could get annoying Ellsworth actually pulls it of quite well, keeping the momentum going not only through a powerful story but with little pieces thrown in to subtly let the reader know that this book isn’t just about two girl’s sharing one heart; it’s about a heartbeat.
Yes, In a Heartbeat is about just that: a heartbeat. What happens within a heartbeat can make a world of difference… landing a jump wrong can end a life. But a heartbeat can help someone continue their life or begin a new, more meaningful one. A heartbeat describes the life-force of the two characters in this books, one ending, one continuing. It describes the amount of time in which lives can change. It describes an emotional feeling and a place where a feeling can lie.
While this still isn’t really my type of book it is a powerful story, and I am not sorry I read it. This book doesn’t fit only a certain type of person, it can be uplifting for many people and will be interesting to other people.
I received an uncorrected advance proof of this title in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion, which is stated above. This review was originally published on epinions under the username laurashrti. I am laurashrti.