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In a Heartbeat Explores a Teen’s Experience With Organ Donation

May 22, 2010

In a Heartbeat by Loretta Ellsworth
published by Walker Books for Young Readers February 2, 2010

In this heart-wrenching novel, the tragic death of a beautiful, talented 16-year-old figure skater offers another teenage girl new hope for life. After a freak accident, Eagan finds herself alone in a place that seems to be immersed in gray mist. She senses that people are waiting for her, but they are in the distance, shrouded in fog. Eagan can’t move forward until she explores flashbacks from her short life. She looks back on her passion for figure skating, her stormy relationship with her intense, perfectionistic mom, and her blissful foray into first love.

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Amelia gets a call she’s been awaiting for six years. An organ donor has died, making a new heart available. The transplant gives her renewed strength and energy and reopens hopes for her future. Yet she’s haunted by guilt; she knows that as she celebrates with her family, another girl’s family is mourning. And something doesn’t seem to fit. The shy, easy-going, artistic teen feels that someone else’s personality is creeping in — a girl who is edgier and more outgoing, tends toward sarcasm, and loves purple lollipops. So Amelia embarks on a brave quest to contact the dead girl’s family, seeking some closure and peace for both of them.

This moving story was told, in alternating chapters, from both Eagan’s and Amelia’s points of view. I connected immediately with both girls, and I was intrigued by the story’s premise, which is based on cellular memory. This theory, that personality traits, preferences, and memories are stored throughout the body rather than just in the brain, is scientifically unproven but supported by fascinating anecdotal evidence. Loretta Eagan discusses this in an author’s note at the end of the book.

I quickly connected with both Eagan and Amelia, and I loved the originality and emotional complexity of the premise. This is a terrific story, but I wanted more. It moved quickly from Amelia’s decision to learn the identity of her donor and contact her family, to her visit to Eagan’s family, to resolution. I wish the book had been longer with more complex plot development and deeper exploration of each character leading to the climax.

On the other hand, the reason I was disappointed was that I was falling in love with the characters and felt the author had such a compelling story to tell; this left me wanting more. This is a compliment to Loretta Ellsworth’s work.  This story will stick with me long after reading it. It is light enough to be enjoyed by tweens as well as teens, and it offers young readers rich fodder for interesting discussions about organ donation, family relationships, death, the complex relationship between biology and personality, and the essence of what makes us who we are.

I borrowed this ARC from Around the World Tours

Read More Reviews: The Book Scout; Pirate Penguin’s Reads; Pop Culture Junkie; Sarah’s Random Musings; Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf; Crazy for Books


2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2010 7:41 pm

    I’m so glad you read this book! I’ve wanted to read it for quite a long time.
    That’s one of my least favorite things about books, when you get attached to the characters and then the story is over and the rest is up to you. It demonstrates skill, something I’m sure you and I both aspire to (!!)
    Great review. :]

    • May 22, 2010 7:58 pm

      Yes, that kind of skill is definitely something I aspire to. 🙂 I hope you get a chance to read this book soon, Robby. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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