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Catherine Ryan Hyde – Second Hand Heart

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The general idea may be to let the past go, but sometimes memories can be the making of us.

Publisher: Black Swan (Random House)
Pages: 446
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-552-77662-2
First Published: 16th September 2010
Date Reviewed: 18th August 2010
Rating: 5/5

Vida would have died without a heart transplant, in fact she’s been waiting to die all her life. Now, at 19 years old, she gets her chance when a woman is killed in a car accident. But what about that woman, or more so what about the husband the woman left behind? Maybe he shouldn’t have contacted Vida, but it’s done now – and is it possible Vida remembers things she’s never experienced?

Please note that the first part of the book, up until Vida has her operation, contains a lot of graphic descriptions of surgery. Should you wish to, skipping over it shouldn’t cause any problems in your understanding later.

My initial thoughts, as I waded through the first lot of pages, was that this was going to be a boring book. Admittedly I was reading this novel straight after having finished If I Stay and it was only recently that I also read Before I Fall, so the theme of being at death’s door wasn’t as compelling as it could have been; but the difference between those books and Second Hand Heart is that Ryan Hyde takes her story beyond the place where the others end. If we are to assume that those two books ended on a positive note then Second Hand Heart is like the continuation of what happens afterward.

I have quite a lot to say about the main character, Vida, as my feelings about her changed over the course of the book, and it was in a different way to how my feelings for characters have been known to change before. The first thing had just as much to do with Ryan Hyde. Vida is a brilliant storyteller, she speaks as you would imagine a teenager to speak, and it’s so much a case of her telling you rather than the collective “reader”. There is no trace of an author writing Vida’s diary, the way it’s written it really is as though the girl is real and wrote the pages herself. Now this isn’t to say that Vida will be as articulate as you would think a nineteen year old would be, and at first this is confusing. But when you learn how sheltered Vida was, and how she would have been put on a kind of pedestal by her worried mother, it makes sense. Vida’s never lived, and this she freely admits, offering her lack of education along with it.

Later on I started to get annoyed with Vida. Her mother told Richard how her daughter could be intense at times – but it didn’t help. Vida is intense and that’s understandable – she wants friends, she wants to know the world – but she crossed the line when it came to Richard. And not by loving him, because that was out of her control, but by contacting him too much when he needed space. A person in love can often feel the need to be with their beloved but Vida was well aware that the love she felt stemmed from the love Lorrie had felt and so should have backed off a little. Indeed she had something important to tell Richard, but it could have waited.

Lastly I came to terms with the fact that Vida was annoying and let her be. I was open to a change when she started becoming the person she will surely have been post-book, and began to feel better about spending so much time in her theoretical presence. There is no doubt about it, heck the amount I’ve just written is proof enough – Ryan Hyde has written a fantastic character who comes to life in a way that few other authors manage.

Richard, lovely as he is, is more a regular character, and he develops in a way similar to many another. But this is a good thing because it allows Vida to be the focus. This isn’t to say that Richard is unworthy, far from it, in fact it becomes the case that his transitions are just as important, but there is that difference there that is difficult to explain but very much needed.

The book deals with love, unsurprisingly, but not so much romantic as familial love and love for oneself. Actually, I’m including the love aspect in this review just so that I can introduce you to the following spot-on quotation:

I’m beginning to see that point about love you made when I first met you. Maybe it’s less like a valentine heart and more like a real one. Like maybe if you give somebody your heart it’s this bit gnarly muscle of a thing that’s not always too pretty to look at.

I’m going to make an incorrect assumption and then add the other side of the opinion to balance it out and cover all angles for debate. First, this book isn’t really about Vida, or Richard. It’s about the woman who died, Lorrie. In this sense Richards thinking behind his decision to give her heart up for transplant was right – Lorrie keeps on living through others, more so than she ever would have had she been buried complete.

Second, this book has everything to do with Vida and Richard, and it is about them finding themselves and their lives through the woman who died. Lorrie’s death didn’t just mean one person lived, it meant lots of people lived and found themselves in a position of change. Vida, her mother, Victor, Esther (who possibly wouldn’t have done what she’d wanted to do) and in a way, Richard. Richard learned to live without Lorrie, even if the best situation would’ve been that he didn’t have to.

There’s a part of me that embraces the first and another part the second. The second may be the correct one, but the first is equally compelling a thought, if not more so than the second. What will be your thoughts?

The school of thought is that everyone in life makes an impact of some sort, but more and more nowadays we worry about the size of the impact we will make; Ryan Hyde mentions this by having Richard donate organs to combat that reason. But ultimately she reminds us that we take what we can in memory and use it to make our own lives better. It may be a nice thought to try and keep someone alive and make them known to everyone, but few will be remembered for as long as the human race exists.

Second Hand Heart is a fantastic life discussion that has been superbly woven into a relatively slow-moving story. The desert setting is stunning but it wouldn’t have held up the book on it’s own, it’s the theme and characters that are most prominent. Because of the theme the book is drenched in the heat it gives off and it’s easy to become lost in it, and that’s just as well because not only is this a very good book, it’s an important one too.

I received this book for review from Transworld Publishing, Random House.

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August 21, 2010, 9:22 am

I enjoyed this book too. At first I thought the writing style would irritate me but then I decided it was perfect because it felt just like a teenager talking to a friend. Great review!

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