Published by Harlequin Books on 28-01-2014
Genres: Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Life. Death. And...Love?
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?
Heartbeat was my first Elizabeth Scott novel, and although a lot of people loved it, it wasn’t really for me. Emma, the main character, is trying to cope with her mother’s sudden death, a reality made even more difficult by the fact that she has to see her mother every day. Emma’s mother Lisa was pregnant when she died, and Emma’s stepfather, Dan, elected to keep her on life support in the hope than the baby can live.
Ethically, morally and legally this is a really interesting storyline. In the past, women in Texas have been kept on life-support for exactly this reason. Unfortunately, while the plot makes for a great debate, the novel itself felt slow, frustrating and in some ways, unbelievable.
Emma is grieving for her mother, and the way her grief is manifesting is through anger. While I know everyone deals with grief in different ways, Emma’s anger was relentless, and it didn’t make much sense to me. She’s furious that she wasn’t consulted on the decision, which makes sense, but she’s also furious about the decision itself. She’s angry at Dan, she’s angry at herself, but most of all she’s angry at the baby.
It’s clear that Emma’s mother desperately wanted a baby, and was terrified of losing it, but Emma has herself convinced her mother never wanted a baby, that Dan selfishly ‘forced’ her to get pregnant. Emma seems to think her mother got pregnant just to please Dan. She’s also convinced her mother suspected getting pregnant would kill her. It felt a bit odd to me that Emma is so angry at everyone, but isn’t even a tiny bit angry at her mother. She thinks her mother is so weak-willed and easily swayed that she would voluntarily get herself pregnant (despite the risks she’s well aware of) just to please her new husband – that doesn’t sound to me like Emma particularly respects her mother.
I also just couldn’t understand the idea that Emma would have wanted the baby to die. Even with her anger, and the fact she felt the baby had killed her mother, it just didn’t feel believable. We’ve been told over and over that Emma was always smart, but her desire to switch the baby off felt completely irrational. It’s almost a little like seeing a car crash caused by a passenger having a fit/a baby crying/a kid yelling distracting the driver, and saying ‘Well they didn’t mean to but it’s their fault the driver died so we won’t bother pulling them out of the burning car’.
Emma goes round in circles with Dan and her thoughts about her mother. There were so many times during Heartbeat where it felt like she’d had a breakthrough and was going to realise that her mother wanted the baby all along or that Dan was trying to salvage something beautiful from a horrible situation, but then didn’t. Logically I know that makes sense – I know Emma was grieving, that she wasn’t always thinking clearly, that she was blinded by anger and not ready to face the fact she had things so wrong. The problem is, while logically I understood why she kept going around in circles, that didn’t make it any easier to read and Heartbeat just felt repetitive. When Emma did finally begin to see sense, it felt rushed – there was nothing different to suggest she would take this particular realisation to heart whilst she’d ignored every other one so far.
The enjoyable part of Heartbeat for me, was the supporting characters. I loved Olivia, Dan and Caleb. Dan is desperately trying to do what he thinks his wife would have wanted, but Emma makes it so hard for him. We see how excited he was to have the baby and how much he loved Emma and her mother. He thinks he’s doing the right thing, but it’s so hard a decision, and it’s one he’s had to make completely on his own. Emma makes it beyond difficult for him, and yet he’s trying to supportively deal with her anger just as much as his own grief. Dan must be in a truly awful situation, and Emma is quick to portray him as heartless whenever he feels a moment’s hope for the baby.
Olivia was nice enough, and was trying to be supportive for Emma, whilst her own life continues on as normal. Caleb was really sweet, and I liked him. The romance was a welcome reprieve from Emma’s circular thoughts. Although it did feel a little forced for two people who’ve not even really acknowledged each other to be brought together by grief, I actually quite liked the romance. I liked the idea that before Emma would never have given Caleb a second glance, but when she finally sees he’s grieving too, they begin to connect. Yes, it does feel a little convenient, but it’s also true that you can see someone every day without ever really knowing them.
This review from English Teachers’ Desk Reference talks about how books that are about grief, can also be about more than just grief, and I think she’s exactly right. I do think it’s possible to have a book about grief that also has funny moments, hopeful moments, lustful moments…moments about something (anything) other than grief, but Heartbeat didn’t really manage that in my opinion. I could have got past disliking Emma’s character, if there was something else to keep me hooked. Unfortunately, while I was keen to know what would happen in the end regarding Lisa and the baby, we spent so much time just listening to Emma’s thoughts it felt almost like nothing happened throughout the story. I think it’d make a great book club pick but all in all, Heartbeat wasn’t really for me.
Buy it? For me, Heartbeat was just okay, and it’s probably one I’d borrow from the library.
In a nutshell:A really interesting premise but an unlikeable main character and a slow feel meant it didn’t really work for me.