A favorite quote: Hold on to the moments when you were smiling, happy, when forever seemed too far away to see the end of it. Only let go of the moments like this. Of crying so hard there’s no longer any sound.
Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza was a random book for me. It was in a pile of new YA books I was putting out on the New Books display shelf, only I decided to check it out instead. (I’m trying to do this more…just immediately start reading a book that seems like I’d like it, rather than checking out 50 or 60 titles and then being so overwhelmed by all the books I want to read that I don’t read anything.) Partly I checked it out because the blurb on the cover— “Swoon-worthy, moving, deep, and funny”—came from another YA author I like, Jennifer Niven. Partly because the story seemed good: teenager Marlowe’s life has been saved by a heart donor, but now she feels like she can’t move forward into her new life until she meets and thanks the family of the person whose death made her new life possible.
In the past ten years I have spent a lot of time worrying about hearts. (In fact, just now I realized that this fall will be 10 years since Kendell’s first heart surgery.) When Kendell was diagnosed with a used-up aortic valve, I wanted to learn more about it. As much as I could, so I would read medical journals and books when I was at work. I didn’t want him to see the books because somehow that would make it more real. Three heart surgeries and one near-death experience caused by v-fib…Kendell and I both know a lot about hearts.
Worrying about your husband’s heart is one thing, however, and worrying about your youngest son’s is another. Kaleb’s heart also has an issue: he has a bulge on his aorta. This is far scarier because in theory it could burst at any time. It means he has to be limited in his activities. In fact, he’s really not supposed to be playing soccer or basketball at all, something our doctor really emphasized the last time we saw him, but I really don’t know how to handle that. Kaleb is not the kind of kid who will be happy sitting on a couch and sometimes strolling around the block. He likes to be out playing sports with his friends, and the maddening thing about this entire situation is that he is really good at it. I’m actually in the process of trying to find a different doctor for him, not necessarily one that will tell me what I want to hear, but one who will help us all cope with this experience.
At any rate—hearts. Heart conditions are terrifying. And they can sometimes be repaired but they are never really fixed. There are always lingering after-effects. Most damaging to the person with the actual heart condition, of course, but not just them. It affects everyone in the family. For me, the side effect of having two family members with scary hearts is that deep down, I am always, constantly afraid. I try to mask it and I use my little lucky-charm ideas (which are just magical thinking I know). One of which is that I kind of feel like I HAVE to read every book I find that’s about hearts, because if I don’t then it will somehow make something bad happen. I don’t actively search them out, but when I find one, I read it.
So maybe I am not the ideal person to review this book, but then again, none of my reviews are actually even real book reviews. You can read them anywhere, so what I want to try to share on my blog with every book I write about is how it fit inside my life, what it taught me, why I loved (or didn’t love) it not only for the plot/writing/characterization/setting/pacing/tone, but for its impact on my life.
Tin Heart was an interesting read for me, in other words. I really loved the main character, Marlowe, because for me she seemed authentically teenager-ish: sometimes wise, sometimes unbearable, prone to bad decisions made out of good impulses. She decides that even though the donor family has requested she not contact them, she’s going to find them anyway, a decision that drives the entire story to its resolution. In a sense, this plays out in the same sequence that a romantic comedy does: a relationship forms until The Secret is accidentally revealed, and then the drama is whether or not the relationship will even be save-able. Which is one reason I don’t watch a ton of rom-coms, because they almost always turn out great. So another thing I loved about Tin Heart was that not everything was resolved. The ending felt authentic and plausible.
Of course, as with every YA novel I read, I also had to remind myself that I am not the audience for this novel. Teenagers are. Which hopefully will excuse the fact that while I got caught up in Marlowe’s story, what I really wanted to read was the experiences of the donor family, especially the donor’s father. Which, then: that would be an entirely different book written for a different audience.
Which brings me back to that blurb on the cover. I don’t know if this book is actually swoon-worthy, at least not for a middle-aged mom. But it is moving, deep, and funny, which is a fantastic combination. I’m glad I read it, and see! my superstition proved correct. No one had to have an emergency heart surgery in my family while I was reading this book, so they were all protected by my reading, at least for a few days.