As I sit here looking at my brand-new book-reviewing website, I can't help but notice that the very first book I'm reviewing (The Girl With More Than One Heart by Laura Geringer Bass) does not fall into any of the categories I listed as my typical genres -- not YA, not fantasy, not historical fiction, and not even really contemporary fiction for adults. Instead, this book is more of a middle-grade read, and it starts my book reviewing "career" at a solid average -- a 2.5, rounded up to a 3 for Goodreads after I had recovered from the crying jag I had at the end of the book!
The Girl With One Heart was not a bad book, not by any means. In fact, for the age range (8-12, as specified on the back of the ARC), it's a great, age-appropriate representation of grief. And by age-appropriate, I mean REAL. Main character Briana's father passes away suddenly, and the reactions of those around her are painted perfectly by Geringer Bass. Just because Briana is only 13, that doesn't mean she wouldn't notice the world as she knows it collapsing. For a child, especially one who is going through something similar, The Girl With One Heart is like a hand to hold, a story just like theirs. Briana sees her mother briefly succumb to grief; she copes with her father's death by imagining his voice in her second heart, which she calls her "Dad Heart;" and she has to step into a more responsible role with her little brother, Aaron, who is on the autism spectrum.
In the ARC's foreword, Laura Geringer Bass makes a point to note that this book was a way to cope with her own father's death, and that she modeled Aaron after her own son, who is also on the spectrum. In the way that it helps her and others dealing with grief cope, I think The Girl With More Than One Heart is a great book. It's written simply enough for a middle-schooler to understand and relate to. However, as a 19-year-old reading it, I wasn't quite as much as a fan.
For obvious reasons, The Girl With More Than One Heart is a sad book. Sad enough that as I finished it (all in one sitting!) I wept, and hard. I've cried over books before for different reasons -- they were just so beautiful (many a Chronicles of Narnia book got that treatment); they were so shocking (Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is a great example), or because of death, like The Girl With More Than One Heart (I'll have to detail my brief breakup with the Harry Potter books over Sirius' death in some future post). The thing was, I really only cried with this book because of the death. I didn't feel like there was enough closure at the end of the novel, and if -- spoilers! -- Briana's "Dad Heart" leaving her was supposed to represent that, I didn't get it. I really felt like Briana still needed time to say goodbye to her dad, although, to be fair, the book did take place over the course of several months. It was just the length of the actual book itself that made the conclusion feel a little rushed.
Also, the parts of The Girl With More Than One Heart that didn't have to do with the "Dad Heart" or the very frequent flashbacks that came with it didn't quite fit for me. Even in times of grief, life goes on, that's true, and I did like that Geringer Bass showed that with Briana's friend/boyfriend drama and Aaron's teacher (who, in my opinion, is a pretty terrible teacher), but the scenes seemed choppy and dropped in. Briana's budding romance with her best friend Peter seemed a little forced, and a little more adult than the rest of the novel -- but, to be fair, most middle school relationships are a little shoehorned. I just liked Peter as Briana's best friend better, though I did like her new friend group of Daisy and Neil MUCH more than the girls she used to hang out with, who appear in Briana's stories as the "Chit Chats."
For me personally, The Girl With More Than One Heart is a solidly three-star book. For a younger audience, though, I think it will do really well. Anyone who has experienced the grief of loss can relate on some level to Briana, and if they are closer to her age, I think they will have found a new friend in the young writer.
The Girl With More Than One Heart comes out April 17, 2018.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced readers' copy of The Girl With More Than One Heart at the Texas Library Association Conference. This has in no way affected my rating, review, or opinion of this book. Some of the links in this review are affiliate links.