Does life go on when your heart is broken?
Since her mother’s sudden death, Emma has existed in a fog of grief, unable to let go, unable to move forward—because her mother is, in a way, still there. She’s being kept alive on machines for the sake of the baby growing inside her.
Estranged from her stepfather and letting go of things that no longer seem important—grades, crushes, college plans—Emma has only her best friend to remind her to breathe. Until she meets a boy with a bad reputation who sparks something in her—Caleb Harrison, whose anger and loss might just match Emma’s own. 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?
Several weeks ago I was thinking about the confronting and downright disturbing book Living Dead Girl, a book I read years ago and still remember vividly, and got to wondering what Elizabeth Scott had written since. Her books deal with topics not all young adult fiction would, and I think they could qualify as general fiction as much as YA.
And so I looked the author up, learnt about a few terrible things that’d happened to her since I last checked in, and then discovered that Heartbeat (2014) was the last book she wrote. After the poor reaction to the early review copies, Scott bought her way out of her contract with her publisher, and I thought: how could it possibly be that bad?
And so I knew I had to read it. The problem? Australians can’t buy her books on Kindle, which meant I had to order a paperback and wait weeks.
When my copy finally arrived I read it in one sitting, and – honestly? I feel anger at some of the reviewers intent on tearing the book to shreds.
I can see why Heartbeat is a difficult read. It takes place not long after Emma’s mother died suddenly, in the weeks after Emma’s stepfather decided to keep her mother’s body alive artificially in order to save the baby she was carrying without Emma even getting a say in the decision.
This is a book about anger, and it’s an anger that barely leaves Emma from the first page to the last. Her mother is gone – but not. She has to see her body, changing as death takes over, in the hospital every day, while a baby grows inside it. She has to live with a man who seems obsessed with this potential baby, and nothing else.
I can see that some readers struggled with the main character, but I also think she was realistic. I think that many teenagers – hell, many people in general – would have reacted exactly the same way Emma did.
I thought the troubles between Emma and Dan, her stepfather, were handled so well. It’s messy and they fight, and they both react to the death in totally different ways, but underneath it all – and by the end – you can see that they’re finding a way back to each other.
The love interest in the background, Caleb, has his own awful, awful issues, and I like that Scott holds back on making everything perfect for everyone by the end. Nothing of hers I’ve read has had a totally happy ending, and it’s brave and realistic.
Mostly, and apart from the book itself, I’m sad that a book that I’ll still be thinking about well into the future was the one that made an author think she needed to end her career.