I decided to read the latest novel by Amy Hatvany, Heart Like Mine. Hatvany also has a book that is due out in 2014 titled Safe With Me. I figured if things went well with Heart Like Mine, I could add Hatvany to my list of authors to watch.
The Situation: Kelli and Victor have been divorced for a few years now, and while Victor has more or less moved on with his life, Kelli still holds onto the dream of one day getting back together with her ex-husband. That is also the dream of Victor and Kelli's 13 year-old daughter Ava, whose life just hasn't been the same since her dad moved out of the house she shares with her mom and her little brother Max. But unbeknownst to the kids, Victor has just gotten engaged to his longtime girlfriend Grace. Even Ava admits that Grace is nice and all, but she isn't her mom. And Kelli isn't sure if she can handle a reality where her ex-husband will forever be with another woman.
The Problem: After Kelli is found dead at her home, everyone's world is turned upside down. Now Grace and Victor will have the kids full-time as opposed to every other weekend, and not only has Ava lost her favorite person in the world, but her dream of her parents getting back together and making their family whole again has been shattered for good. What follows is an incredibly tense season where Grace gets a crash-course in being a stepparent to two incredibly hurt children; Victor gets used to being in the same house as his children again; and Ava begins the seemingly impossible task of healing and accepting Grace as part of her family. But both processes are hampered by the questions about Kelli's past that her death has left behind. There is a noticeable lack of photos of Kelli after her freshmen year in high school, and it seems she wasn't completely honest with her daughter about her life before she met Victor. How do you solve a mystery about a person you love when the only people who know any answers aren't talking, and the one person you want to talk about it with is no longer alive?
Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel that focuses on a fairly run-of-the-mill Seattle family attempting to maintain normal lives after being hurt by the pains of divorce. Grace never really wanted kids but has now been thrown into motherhood, and no matter how many times Victor asserts that his kids are his responsibility, there is no way Grace can be fully sheltered from Ava's anger and resentment over the whole situation. And seven year-old Max is too young to know why he is suddenly stomping on his Nintendo Wii, and why it actually made him feel better. The story is actually told from the perspective of both Ava and Grave, and then Kelli's story is eventually revealed through separate chapters told by an omniscient narrator, starting from when she was 14. Her story is more or less a tale of what it's like to grow up with strict religious parents who aren't that great at showing love and affection. And what results are crippling insecurities that she carried into her marriage.
My Verdict: This book is an emotional roller-coaster, but not in an overly sappy or heavy-handed way, which I appreciate immensely. Grace is a cool and collected career woman whose professional life centers around helping battered women transition back into life away from their abusers. She knows how to handle people who are hurting, and although Ava gives her a challenge like she has never had before (and will probably never have again), she does remarkably well. I personally do not have first-hand knowledge regarding the pain of divorce, so maybe Grace's ability to deal with the situation is a little unbelievable. But I also like how she doesn't stoop to competing with Victor's ex-wife, although Kelli seemingly takes every opportunity she can get to make underhanded comments and make sure her children's alliance stays with her. Hatvany manages to explore how tense and painful these situations and interactions can be, but without dwelling on them too long, even though a lot of the stories are told twice by different characters. It is always just enough to give the reader a picture of what the characters are going through, and then the author moves on. I do have to mention though, just like I did with last week's post on The Death of Bees, that having the incredibly strict, overly religious characters as the villains has been done before and has been done better. If authors insist on using devices that everyone else seems to be gravitating towards, then they need to use them in a new way that makes then stand out from the rest, because this particular device is definitely nothing new.
Favorite Moment: When Grace stands up to Victor and tells him the truth about what is happening with both his children and their relationship. For these people, the more they talk to each other the better.
Favorite Character: Grace may be too good to be true, but she was still my favorite. Her background in counseling helped her navigate the minefield that was Ava's emotions, and I actually believed that she may be able to survive this situation and still get married to Victor.
Recommended Reading: I honestly have no idea what to recommend for this book. Anything I come up with ends up being young adult. So I guess I'll recommend anything by Sarah Dessen or Sarah Ockler, as both authors deal in complex emotions and situations that center around today's average teenage girl.