Thursday, 5 August 2010

Review: Second Hand Heart by Catherine Ryan Hyde

This is my first review of the books involved in the Transworld Summer Reading Challenge: Catherine Ryan Hyde's Second Hand Heart.

The basic premise revolves around, quite literally, a second hand heart. Vida is nineteen years old and very ill, with a heart condition. She's got about two weeks to live when she receives a donor heart, from a woman who has just died in a car accident. The woman, Lorrie, leaves behind a grieving husband named Richard. When Vida sees Richard for the first time, she falls in love with him, putting them both in a fraught situation.

The novel switches back and forth between Vida's and Richard's points of view, exploring the possibility of trace memories and feelings from the donor heart, while also balancing Richard's grief and secondary characters like Richard's mother-in-law, Vida's overprotective mother, and her friends Esther and Victor.

So, what did I think?

Overall, this was a good, solid read. If I were going to rate it, I'd give it three out of five stars, and I'll explain why.

It's extremely well-plotted, following a clear and thoroughly intriguing line from beginning to end. I often find that with books in this genre, we take long and uninteresting deviations into the lives of minor characters that the reader doesn't really care about. This isn't true of Second Hand Heart. The deviations are small, and engaging, and definitely give us a better sense of the characters as people and of the complicated relationships between them. The plot focuses on Richard and Vida, moving seamlessly between their perspectives, their conflicts and using the motif of a smooth worry stone to sort of tie them together.

The conflict, too, is great: for Vida, she's suddenly in love with this man she feels like she knows, because of her new heart. She doesn't know how much of what she now thinks and feels is her, and how much is Lorrie. For Richard, there's a girl with his wife's heart who claims to love him. Has he really lost his wife for good, or is there a part of her he can cling to?

Compelling, isn't it? The novel is essentially about grief, and letting go, and learning to live your life to the full: common, popular themes, but popular for a reason. I thought each of the themes were explored beautifully and I loved the motif of the worry stone, a stone the characters rub every time they feel anxious or upset. It made me want my own worry stone!

And, best of all, the conflicts are resolved realistically and satisfyingly, leaving the reader without any frustration or doubt at the end.

So where did the book fall short, in my opinion? Well, for one thing, while the secondary characters were interesting, I found Vida, the protagonist, annoying. I'm not sure whether it was because she comes across as selfish (trying to seduce Richard who is obviously grieving his wife, and showing no respect for that grief) or because she seems ungrateful for the things she has. Yes, her mother is overprotective; yes, she lies about her daughter. But even before Vida has her heart, she seems to resent her mother already and there's no sign of appreciation at all. Flaws in a character don't bother me, but I just found that Vida annoyed me too often for me to really enjoy being in her head.

And then there was the slight disconnect I felt right through the novel, like I wasn't really able to get into it and absorb the story as well as I should have been able to. Maybe it's because this isn't a genre I read very often. Maybe it's because I found Vida annoying. Either way, I wasn't terribly moved by the emotions, and I found the concept of trace memories more interesting than the main characters.

That said, there was no point while reading the book that I felt 'oh, I can't be bothered to read this anymore'. It was compelling, it kept me reading, and I'm fairly certain that while I didn't love this, a lot of other people will.


  1. I'm gonna admit to skimming this because this book is on my Transworld list, too, and I didn't want any spoilers! :)

  2. Hi, is organizing a short story writing contest.

    This is for all the writers out there who have a knack for creative writing. So, if you have what it takes to claim the winners 'prize' money, which is $100, drop us an email with your 'short story submission’ composed within a 550 word limit. The last date for submission is 10th August 2010.

    For registration, queries and for all the insiders’ info, do check the provided link -

    happy writing!

    Team - Short Story Book