FicCentral received a free copy of this book from Harlequin Teen (via NetGalley).
Publisher: Harlequin Teen on January 28, 2014
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance (YA)
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?
One moment, Emma had the perfect family — her stepfather Dan who doted on her, a mother who understood her like no one else, and a little brother on the way. And then it was gone. The bright high school student who once fretted only over whether her grades would get her into her top-pick of colleges now spends every afternoon talking to the once lively woman who once meant everything to her, now being kept alive only by machines and only long enough to serve as an incubator to her yet-to-be-born brother — a decision Dan made without even consulting her.
I know I can’t stay in my room forever. The thing about Mom dying is that the world didn’t stop. It didn’t even slow down. It’s flowers and cards and everyone understands but no one does because Mom wasn’t Mom to them. Without her it’s like I’m living inside a mirror. I see things, I do things, but they are just surfaces and nothing more.
Caleb is part troublemaker and part mystery. He’s dabbled in drugs, stolen cars, and been sent to — as he calls it — suck camp. But that’s really all anyone knows about him. He’s not your typical thrill seeker, so the question is, why? Why would a boy who seems to have everything harbor so much anger?
Olivia nods and I think about hate. I understand what can make someone do what Caleb did, although I don’t think a bored, rich druggie really gets hate. Not real hate. I do, though. If there were something I could do to Dan that would hurt him, I’d do it.
Aside from her best friend Olivia, Emma has no one. Her mother is gone, her stepfather is obsessed only with his unborn son, and any other friends she had before her mother was pronounced brain dead have long since faded into the background. So when she sees a familiar sense profound loss in the face of the resident bad boy, she can’t help but be intrigued.
Heartbeat is not a book you sit down and read. It’s a book you actually feel, each word arranged not just to perfectly describe a situation or emotion, but to absolutely envelope you in it. The simplicity with which the author describes the acute grief of losing someone and the life-altering absence of them is hauntingly accurate.
Is loss this constant pain, not mental, but actual pain? It’s like even my teeth hurt, but there’s a fog over it, one that makes the pain hurt and yet leaves me carved out too.
There’s a loneliness in loss that no one can understand unless they’ve been through it, too, and for a girl still in high school, there aren’t many around her who can relate. Olivia may be Emma’s anchor to both the past and the present, but Caleb is different. While he has no words of wisdom that will lessen the pain she may not ever escape, he sees what others can’t because he’s right there in that forever-changed world with her. The relationship between Caleb and Emma grows out of shared loss and an understanding that only they have, though it’s not immune to the awkwardness and self-conscious second-guessing that teenagers know all too well.
Despite its grim premise, Heartbeat isn’t an angst-filled read; it’s a story of love amongst one of life’s inescapable certainties, with an unlikely savior who is just as in need of saving as Emma is. Their simple understanding and undeniable attraction to each other is so beautifully told that I couldn’t put it down until I’d read it twice over. If ever there was a book that spoke not just to but also from the heart of a teenage girl, this one is it.