Friday, April 18, 2014

Contemporary Fiction: Safe With Me by Amy Hatvany

I agreed to review Amy Hatvany's Safe With Me, mostly because I had read her previous book, Heart Like Mine, just last year and enjoyed it a great deal. I expected the same kind of honest sincerity I encountered before and was curious to see if I would also hear more intriguing female voices. 

The Situation: It has been a year since Hannah has lost her 12 year-old daughter Emily in a tragic car accident. Now she is focusing on the impending opening of her hair salon's second location. She fills her days with the renovations going on downstairs, and lives in the small apartment upstairs, having decided to rent out the house she used to share with Emily, since being there alone proved to be too painful. Hannah admits that she is still far from over her daughter's death, but while friends and family try to comfort her and bring her closer to closure, Hannah stays guarded and protective of her time and feelings. But when a young girl walks into the new location with her mother, Hannah starts to believe that this could be the girl who received Emily's liver after the doctor declared her brain dead. Now the memories and emotions that Hannah has been trying to downplay and avoid take center focus again, just when Hannah was hoping to get everything back under control.

The Problem: While Hannah still grieves over her daughter and wonders if she should be honest with Maddie and her mother, Olivia, about her suspicions, the mother-daughter pair have problems of their own. While Emily's liver may have saved Maddie's life and was the answer to her family's prayers, they still must deal with James, Maddie's father and Olivia's husband. For as long as Maddie can remember, James has been an abusive husband to Olivia, though her mother would never admit it to her. Olivia lives in fear while hating her life and who she has become, while Maddie attempts to navigate her new life outside of hospitals, in a new school, and through the fake online profile she has created for herself. Things only become more desperate as James' rage increases, but Olivia doesn't see many options, and fears that her new friendship with Hannah could only make matters worse.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel mostly set just outside of Seattle, Washington. The main theme seems to be that of domestic and spousal abuse, but the book also addresses organ donation, and the difficult decision family members sometimes have to make just after they receive news that no one wants to hear. The story switches between the three main characters, moving from Hannah, then to Olivia, then to Maddie, and then back to Hannah again to start the process over, with each chapter focusing on the actions of a different character. While Hannah and Olivia have a third person narrator for their chapters, Maddie gets to tell her story from her own point of view. And because Maddie gets to use her own voice, it becomes clear that she knows a lot more than her mother, or her father, even realizes, and that she has secrets of her own. Maddie's story is not only of someone who grew up watching her mother be abused by her father, but also of someone who has been sick for the majority of her life and doesn't quite know who she is separate from her illness.

My Verdict: Domestic abuse is not at all easy to read about, and I doubt very seriously it is easy to write about. What I loved about Hatvany's Heart Like Mine are the same things I loved about Safe With Me. Hatvany approaches the subject with honesty, but without getting too heavy-handed with the message. She doesn't shy away from the hard stuff, but doesn't just dwell on them either. And while Maddie may be the only one who gets to tell her story in her own voice, the reader still gets a clear sense of what Hannah and Olivia are going through. Few parts of the book seemed rushed, and the ending seems well thought-out, and not just something Hatvany put together simply because the book needed and ending.

Favorite Character: I decided my favorite character was Hannah. She essentially experiences a parent's worst nightmare, and like most people, she is way too hard on herself for feeling the incredible amount of grief that comes with such a situation. But ultimately, she is able to function, doesn't alienate herself completely, and does her best not to take her grief out on everybody else.

Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When Maddie decides to delete her fake online profile and break it off with the much older guy she has been chatting with online.

Recommended Reading: For this book I am going to recommend the young adult novel Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, mostly because it also deals with domestic abuse and its effects on children. Plus, like Safe With Me, it switches narrative voices, this time between two teenagers who have formed an unlikely relationship.  

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