Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Book Review: Second Hand Heart by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Title: Second Hand Heart
Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde
eISBN: 0552776629
Pages: 464
Publisher: Black Swan
Release date: 16 September 2010
Source: Review copy provided by publisher
For more information visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website

Grade: 3 stars

Novellus bonus!
Goodreads appetizer: Vida is 19 and has never had much of a life. Struggling along with a life-threatening heart condition, her whole life has been one long preparation for death. But suddenly she is presented with a donor heart, and just in time. Now she gets to do something she never imagined she'd have to do: live.

Richard is a 36-year-old man who’s just lost his beloved wife, Lorrie, in a car accident. Still in shock and not even having begun the process of grieving, he is invited to the hospital to meet the young woman who received his wife’s donor heart.

Vida takes one look at Richard and feels she’s loved him all her life. And tells him so. Richard assumes she’s just a foolish young girl. And maybe she is. Or maybe there’s truth behind the theory of cellular memory, and maybe it really is possible for a heart to remember, at least for a time, on its own.

Second Hand Heart is both a story of having to learn to live for the first time, and having to learn to live all over again

My thoughts: Return to Me with Minnie Driver and David Duchovny (which is about "a man who falls in love with the woman who received his wife's heart must decide which woman it is who holds his heart") is one of my favourite movies, so of course as soon as I saw what Second Hand Heart was about I knew I had to read it.

I was intrigued by Second Hand Heart' theme: cellular memory. That a person's life, memories are not only stored in their brain but in every organ and cell of their body, and the heart being one of the most important organs retains thus the deepest indentation or evidence of such memories. 

Second Hand Heart is written through Vida's and Richard's journal entries/e-mails and while I felt such approach suited a teenager girl it was a bit harder to imagine a 36 year old man purging his innermost thoughts on paper.

Vida is a very sheltered 19 year old girl, who only starts living after her heart transplant. After the successful transplant the world opens up and she can finally step out and discover it. Yes, due to her very sheltered and inexperienced upbringing she is very naive and childish, but in an endearing way, and she is pure and honest. I loved how Catherine Ryan Hyde made her a layered character: that due to her previous sufferings and all she has gone through at such a young age she had a certain wisdom and objectivity to life, then on the other hand due to her inexperience of never having "stepped out" of her room and never having lived life, she also had a certain naivety and childishness. Vida was quite a unique and definitely interesting character.

Of course writing Richard must have been harder. He is the grieving husband who lost the love of his life. How can he grieve for his deceased wife yet be intrigued by this young girl? I felt that Catherine Ryan Hyde's portrayal of Richard and how a griving husband tries to grasp the loss of his wife and how to survive every single day and go on with his life was done quite well, tough I didn't find the novel - despite its subject - emotionally powerful or overwhelming. It was a nice, quick read, and I would even say a "light" beach read.

The journal format was one of the things that put me off most: the language and descriptions were quite simplified (I felt even too simplified, this book wasn't written for teens) and I had difficulties believing that a grieving 30something man would pour out his feelings in a journal.   

Verdict: The problem is that this novel isn't really a love story. At least not the love story of Richard and Vida. Second Hand Heart is the story of learning how to live and how to survive the loss of a loved one. It was a nice read but my complaint is that the blurb led me to expect something quite different than it was.

I'll leave you with two of my favourite quotes from the novel:

'No one can tell you when you are going to die, You die when you are done, Not a moment before. Not a moment after. No matter what anyone says. No matter what anyone wishes for you.'

'Well I stand by my answer,' I said. 'But it's not cynism. Just the opposite. I have too much respect for love to believe that [=to believe in love at first sight]. I don't even believe in the concept of falling in love. The falling part, I mean. We should all be so lucky that love is something you just fall into. Like, "A funny thing happened to me today: I was walking down the street and I tripped and fell into some love." You don't fall down to love, you climb up to it. There's hard work involved. That's why I don't believe you can love someone you don't know. Loving someone is knowing them.'
Plot: 7/10
Characters: 8/10
Ending: 7/10
Writing: 6/10
Cover: 9/10

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