Author: Elizabeth Scott
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: January 28th 2014
Rating: 3.5 or 4 stars (not sure)
The first thing I want to say when it comes to Heartbeat is: don't let that cover mislead you. This isn't a love story, although there is romance. This isn't sappy and fluffy and cutesy like you might expect it to be when you look at the cover. This is the story of a girl so overcome by grief and anger that she's become little more than a shadow of her old self. This is the story of a girl trying to battle a grief so immense it swallows everything whole. This is the story of a girl with no hope and nothing more than endless emptiness and endless rage. This is the story of a girl finding herself again.
The protagonist, Emma, isn't always likeable. She's grieving so intensely that there's little space left for her personality - at times it's swallowed by the sadness. That doesn't mean she ever seems lifeless or a cardboard cutout. Not at all. Her grief is so intense and painful that you can imagine - and at the same time can't imagine - why she is the way she is. Emma is not only sad, she is bitter. Very bitter. Her stepdad, Dan, made a huge decision without ever asking Emma what she thought of it, and she hates him for it. At the same time, Dan is so sweet and caring and loving that she can't help but love him - and she hates herself for it. Most of the time, I could feel Emma's pain and rage so intensely - I understood why she did things the way she did. On the other hand, there were times when I didn't feel her all that much, and it shows how important that connection is. In the moments when you do not truly feel Emma's pain, she is unlikeable. I get why she behaved like that, but her tendency to walk away time and time again became annoying and I wanted her to talk about it.
Emma's best friend, Olivia, was a delight. She was a bit quirky with her hatred for technology, but otherwise a teenager through and through. She was a realistic best friend, and she supported Emma throughout the story. She's not afraid of opening her mouth when Emma behaves strangely, but she only does so with Emma's best interests in mind. It was obvious that she loved Emma and I loved Scott for making her an actual best friend instead of the stereotyped back-stabbing 'friends' we see so often in YA.
The romance was well done as well. It starts with a few looks - glances - and slowly progresses. By the time Emma had real feelings for Caleb, it was believable. It never went too fast and I could believe in it. The reader's attitude toward Caleb changes as Emma's does, and it shows skill. I wasn't shipping them with everything I have and it's not an epic love story, but the romance fits the book very well. It's small and intricate and takes a backseat to Emma's personal growth.
Speaking of Emma's growth - it was another well executed point of this novel. It progresses slowly, which is good and realistic, but at times it was too slow. There were moments when I felt that Emma was ready to talk, and instead she ran away from the confrontation. It wasn't annoying, but I felt that Emma was at times clinging too much to her feelings of rage and sadness. Maybe it was the point, though, to show the reader that grieving is a slow and hard process, in which case Scott did an amazing job. Because of this slow process, though, I felt that the ending was a bit rushed. Because the path toward being happy and hopeful was so slow and painful, I felt that she took that final horde a little too easily, and that she should perhaps have struggled a bit more with it. In the end, though, this was a really likeable story of a girl finding herself again.