Friday, February 10, 2012
My Beating Teenage Heart
C.K. Kelly Martin
My Beating Teenage Heart is saddled with an unfortunate cover and an even more unfortunate title. I got more strange looks when I pulled this book out of my backpack than I usually get, which I believe is mainly due to the title. In addition, the cover is a fairly uninspiring tan, black, and gray. While the color scheme fits the book, the picture needs to be more interesting.
*There will be a few spoilers in here, especially when I talk about the ending, so read at your own risk!*
My Beating Teenage Heart follows the fairly common premise of a central character who is dead and looking down on the living from whatever state of afterlife they are in. Martin breaks the mold a little bit here in how her dead girl character, Ashlyn, is tied to a living boy, Breckon, dual narrators of the novel. Now, it does take Ashlyn a little bit of time to figure out that she's dead, but chances are good that the reader will figure it out beforehand (especially given the quotes on the back cover of the galley, such as "I miss the beat of my heart."). Ashlyn doesn't know why she's stuck with Breckon for the majority of the book, so she learns about him as the reader does, a good choice by Martin. Watching the characters unfold (Ashlyn also slowly remembers her life as the book goes on) is an interesting process and gives them some dimension, especially Breckon. Breckon is reeling from the death of his younger sister Skylar, and as the reader and as Ashlyn we watch him spiral down into despair because, of course, he blames himself for what happened to her.
A few things of note:
1) This is a very, very sad book. I almost cried at the end, and I don't typically cry because of books. Martin does an amazing job of capturing the emotions of her characters, but it is almost painful to read at times.
2) The book did get a tad draggy, especially if you're not thrilled by watching someone sink into depression. There was a lot of "Breckon did this," then "Breckon did that." The emotions are what drive the book, more than the plot points do.
3) The book does trend a bit towards the melodramatic. For example: "The sound isn't music and it's not whispers. I don't have words to describe it. If teardrops, blinding sunshine and limitless knowledge combined to make a noise, it would be the one the stars hum while I float amongst them" (1). You see what I mean. Beautiful, but a tad over the top. Which brings me to...
4) The ending (and SPOILER ALERT). I don't really know how to describe the ending. On the one hand, it was really beautiful and uplifting and sad. On the other hand, it was like a typical dead-person-book ending: Ashlyn is able to see her family one last time, Breckon knows his sister forgives him, and Ashlyn moves on, no longer tied to Breckon. Somewhat sappy, but it also makes you want to cry. Or at least sniffle a bit. It would have been more interesting if Martin had gone off the beaten path a little here, but this ending is what most readers will want for Breckon and Ashlyn, even though it is cliched.
My Beating Teenage Heart is about a 3/5. Compare it to whatever spicy food you like: it's tasty, but it hurts to eat it, and you should really read it with something else to cut the spice. Preferably some sort of fluffy, very cheerful piece so that you don't find yourself crying in the middle of the day. An excellent book for this is My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger, which is so over-the-top happy that it will perfectly accompany My Beating Teenage Heart.