Ellen loves Link and James. Her older brother and his best friend are the only company she ever wants. She knows they fight, but she makes it a policy never to take sides. She loves her brother, the math genius and track star. She is totally, madly in love with James, his long eyelashes and hidden smiles. “When you grow out of it,” James teases her, “you will break my heart.”
Then someone at school asks if Link and James might be in love with each other. A simple question. But the answer is far from simple, and its repercussions affect their entire lives.
Wow. Have you ever read a book where no matter how long you think about it, you'll never be able to accurately articulate how the book you made you feel? My Heartbeat is one of those titles. I originally borrowed this from the library because of it's cover. Yup, it was the most atrocious cover on the shelf. I really enjoyed Garret Freymann-Weyr's After the Moment last year and thought that maybe this earlier novel would be nothing in comparison. Boy, was I wrong!
My Heartbeat is a young adult novel about a very young teenager, Ellen, who falls in love with her older brother's best friend, James. Typical Disney plotline, right? Wrong. Ellen realizes that James is very much so in love with her brother but as a young person in the early 2000s, doesn't know what gay is or why society would be prejudiced against it. This is one of the few YA novels I've read with an LGBTQ main character without the novel being about them "coming out" but rather about what it means to be homosexual in general. I loved how Garret Freymann-Weyr chose to embrace bisexuality in a very pansexual "love who you love" way rather than as a promiscuous love addict as some modern media chooses to portray it.
Beyond homosexuality, My Heartbeat also touches on teenage sex, transitions from adolescence to adulthood, the evolution of relationships, parent-teenager relations, and the poginancy of art in a secular society. Garret Freymann-Weyr used such rich metaphors and truthful descriptions that I was swept away in her world of words yet was amazed at how much the dialogue and train of thought mirrored my own. I think older teenagers would appreciate this novel more than younger YA readers, as the novel is probably marketed to, because it's incredibly moving and nostalgic to look back on a time when things were either black or white, when you could see things for the first time. It's rare to find such a pure and honest character as Ellen in most YA literature where characters are meant to mirror the harsh realities some teenagers face and I was completely enamored with her the whole novel.
I absolutely hate the cover. It misrepresents the deep emotional themes of the novel and turns it into a juvenile cartoon. I also think the title, while an important line, doesn't market the novel very well to an older young adult audience. If I was an average teenager looking for a book at the library I would probably have skipped right over My Heartbeat.
Quote: "Of the five of us - James, the other men, and me - who are waiting it is Douglas Peters, whom I have never met or seen, who looks more like a person. He is the only one with an expression. The only one whose mouth I got just right so that his face is full of sorrow instead of merely frozen, the way my fingers still are I try to draw what I see."
Recommended: After the Moment (Garret Freymann-Weyr), Keeping You a Secret (Julie Anne Peters), Geography Club (Brent Hartinger)
Laura (All the Word's a Page)