REVIEW – HEARTBEAT BY ELIZABETH SCOTT

Available January 28, 2014 from Harlequin Teen

Goodreads

Life. Death. And…Love?

Emma would give anything to talk to her mother one last time. Tell her about her slipping grades, her anger with her stepfather, and the boy with the bad reputation who might be the only one Emma can be herself with.

But Emma can’t tell her mother anything. Because her mother is brain-dead and being kept alive by machines for the baby growing inside her.

Meeting bad-boy Caleb Harrison wouldn’t have interested Old Emma. But New Emma-the one who exists in a fog of grief, who no longer cares about school, whose only social outlet is her best friend Olivia-New Emma is startled by the connection she and Caleb forge.

Feeling her own heart beat again wakes Emma from the grief that has grayed her existence. Is there hope for life after death-and maybe, for love?

****

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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Heartbeat is an emotional look inside a family as they deal with loss and tragedy. When Emma’s pregnant mother suffers a stroke, Emma’s stepfather, Dan, decides to keep her alive to save the unborn baby, even though Emma’s mother is brain dead. Emma hates Dan for his decision, not only because he never consulted Emma, but because she thinks he only cares for his unborn son, and not her mother. Emma doesn’t know how to survive without her mother. She’s lost everything- her mom, her stepfather, her grades, and the one thing that remains – her unborn baby brother, is the catalyst for all the hurt and confusion.

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The characters:

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Emma is a smart teenager. Before her mother’s stroke, Emma was on the fast track to a prestigious college. She was a serious, hardworking student who thought planning her perfect future was the most important thing she could do. After her mother dies, Emma’s grades fall, she stops doing her homework, stops caring, because nothing that was important is that way anymore. I like how this story takes a hard journey through loss and grief. Several times, I found myself connecting with Emma’s internal dialogue. Her anguish and confusion, the what if’s, the author really hit the grief spot on.

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Dan is the doting father figure. Even while Emma hates him, and is constantly spitting hate in his direction, you can see how much he loves her and their family. He’s torn between saving his son and using his wife’s body as an incubator. He knows that his wife would want him to save their son, but his struggle with Emma’s hatred is spectacular. He’s an incredibly strong character, even though he’s not perfect. I loved that the reader gets glimpses into the past, of how happy he was to have Emma and her mother. It lets the reader know that he’s not some heartless bastard trying to farm his son into existence at any cost.

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Caleb is Emma’s love interest. He’s a broken boy, which is how Emma connects with him. He considers himself responsible for his little sister, Millie’s, death. Emma and Caleb bond over their guilt and pain, and their love story is sometimes quiet and beautiful and other times bright and explosive. Caleb is the perfect reflection for Emma and I love the two of them together. It shows how you truly cannot know someone from the outside. Caleb appears to be the typical bad boy loser, into drugs and stealing cars, but he’s really just a sad, scared, young man, who has taken on far more guilt than he should have to bear alone.

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Things I liked:

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*Heartbeat doesn’t sugarcoat pain or loss and allows Emma to make bad choices. It also allows for forgiveness.

*It has a clear understanding of grief and the anger and hatred that come along with it.

*There is visible character growth for Emma, Dan, and Caleb.

*There is a clear line between Emma’s “old” life and her “new” life, and proof that neither is perfect.

*Caleb- especially how he doesn’t “exist” to Emma until she finally “sees” him.

*First person present tense. I usually don’t like this POV, but the immediacy worked perfectly for Heartbeat, packing an emotional punch.

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Things I didn’t like:

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*Caleb’s parents. I can see where a family would get to the point of hating their child if they believed him responsible for the death of their other child, however, I thought the entire scene between him, Emma, and his parents was over the top. I know that the author wanted to show how “evil” they are, but pure evil is hard to swallow, and she left little redeeming qualities for Caleb’s parents. I would’ve believed it more if they’d just ignored him instead of trying to convince Emma that Caleb is a terrible person.

*Millie’s back story. I kept waiting for the “diets” Millie was on to pan out into a plot point. I wanted to see that perfection reflected in Caleb’s mother. It felt like an afterthought, another “staged” point just to make his parents look worse. Their callousness never felt authentic.

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This story is unique, like nothing I have ever read before. Heartbeat takes the reader on a turbulent ride. I found myself laughing and crying at equal intervals. Heartbeat answers the following questions:

How do you say goodbye to someone who is still breathing? Someone who will produce a life but has none left for herself? What makes a life? What makes a family? What is the right decision if you cannot choose for yourself? Who will love me when I have so much hate?

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This story will move teens and adults alike. Great for fans of emotional books along the lines of The Fault in our Stars by John Green and Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy. 

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Rating: Four Stars

REVIEW – IMPERFECT SPIRAL BY DEBBIE LEVY

I received an e-copy of Imperfect Spiral from Net Galley. All opinions are my own. I did not receive compensation, monetary or otherwise, for my review.

Danielle Snyder’s summer job as a babysitter takes a tragic turn when Humphrey, the five-year-old boy she’s watching, runs in front of oncoming traffic to chase down his football. Immediately Danielle is caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and, when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented alien, outsiders use the accident to further a politically charged immigration debate. Wanting only to mourn Humphrey, the sweet kid she had a surprisingly strong friendship with, Danielle tries to avoid the world around her. Through a new relationship with Justin, a boy she meets at the park, she begins to work through her grief, but as details of the accident emerge, much is not as it seems. It’s time for Danielle to face reality, but when the truth brings so much pain, can she find a way to do right by Humphrey’s memory and forgive herself for his death?

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5 STARS

Available July 16, 2013

Imperfect Spiral is the kind of book I love to read. To say it was artfully arranged would be an understatement.

The story revolves around Humphrey Danker and his babysitter, Danielle. What started out as a fun evening in the park ends in tragedy when Humphrey is struck and killed by a vehicle while walking home. What happens next is a perfect example of what would occur in the real world. The community gets involved, and suddenly everyone else “owns” Humphrey’s death. They want sidewalks and lights on Quarry Road, they want all illegal immigrants deported—turning the tragedy into a circus.

The story arc of this book felt like a puzzle to me, and I mean that in the best way. We have Justin, the boy who Danielle meets in the park—he turns out to be the son of the people who hit Humphrey. We have Mr. Danker, who at first is cold and distant to Danielle, who changes after his son’s death and offers to help Justin (an illegal immigrant) stay in the country.

Each of the revelations was surprising to me. The story was so carefully created—it wasn’t that the author used distraction to keep the reader from figuring it out, I was just caught up in everything, so every pivotal moment felt right and fell into the perfect spot.

Danielle was an easy character to relate to. She was compassionate and kind, she loved Humphrey, but she was still a teenager. She suffered a lot of uncertainty throughout the story, but that felt true. She wasn’t whiney or overly dramatic, but we experienced her personal turmoil as she interacted with her counselor, her parents, and her friends.

Every character had a history and well-rounded place. The ending was satisfying, leaving enough to the imagination, but also closing all the character’s stories in a way that was believable and hopeful.

I read somewhere that this book was for fans of Jodi Picoult. I love Jodi Picoult books, and I loved this book, but I’m not sure that the two are all that similar. Jodi has a specific way of writing that jumps you around from character to character. Imperfect Spiral is told from Danielle’s point of view. Jodi’s books often focus on legal proceedings, Imperfect Spiral, though it does have some “town hall” type meetings, is more about the relationships and personal growth. I think readers of Jodi Picoult will enjoy this book, but I also think they should understand that it is not written in a similar fashion (and that’s fine—it doesn’t need to be!).

If you like stories that leave you feeling hopeful and satisfied—you’ll love Imperfect Spiral.