Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: My Beating Teenage Heart by C.K. Kelly Martin

*This book was provided by the lovely people at Random House, through their Bookurious site's Blog It Forward program.

It's interesting having someone send a book to you, rather then simply picking one up from the bookstore yourself. It can be a very uplifting, or at times very awkward, experience. I had heard of My Beating Teenage Heart before I received it as part of Blog It Forward, it was even on my list. But truthfully, all by itself it's not likely the type of book that I would have immediately put at the top or been drawn to. I usually focus on reading and reviewing books with a central or fairly central romantic theme, and while there is a bit of couple stuff here that's not the main focus of this book.

How much I would have missed! This book is absolutely fantastic and manages to tackle some very challenging situations with grace, honesty and style. Read on to see why I feel that My Beating Teenage Heart is an absolutely fantastic read that is not to be missed.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Ashlyn Baptiste is falling. One moment she was nothing—no memories, no self—and then suddenly, she's plummeting through a sea of stars. Is she in a coma? She doesn't remember dying, and she has no memories of the life she left behind. All she knows is that she's trapped in a consciousness without a body and she's spending every moment watching a stranger.

Breckon Cody's on the edge. He's being ripped apart by grief so intense it literally hurts to breathe. On the surface, Breckon is trying to hold it together for his family and his girlfriend, but underneath he's barely hanging on.

Even though she didn't know him in life, Ashlyn sees Breckon's pain, and she's determined to find a way help him. As her own distressing memories emerge from the darkness, she struggles to communicate with the boy who can't see her, but whose life is suddenly intertwined with hers. In alternating voices of the main characters, My Beating Teenage Heart paints a devastatingly vivid picture of both the heartbreak and the promise of teenage life—a life Ashlyn would do anything to recover and Breckon seems desperate to destroy—and will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen, John Green, and David Levithan.

There are two central questions being asked at the heart of this book, and both seem very worth investigating. The first, as shown through Ashlyn, is "What happens when we die?". How many centuries have we, as a species, wondered this? I love books that explore this theme, because there is so much that can be done with it. And I feel that C.K. Kelly Martin's take on their being some type of space between life, death and what comes next was really interesting.

It also lined everything up for the second major thing being explored, which is how do we move on when we lose someone we love? And (in the case of Breckon) forgive ourselves for a self-imposed crime? The guilt that he felt over the death of his little sister was absolutely heart wrenching, and I was dying to know just *what* he felt he had done from pretty much word go.

That's another thing that made the book great, though. Usually with a mystery inside of a book we see people trying to solve it and it's an external thing. In the case of My Beating Teenage Heart, the characters themselves were the mysteries -- for Ashlyn remembering who she was and for Breckon letting the reader find out what exactly happen to his sister. This made for some very effortless page turning. We had a power out while I was reading this and I was literally using my iPod as a light source because I didn't want to put the book down.

The Characters: 

I found Ashlyn to be a likable and gutsy heroine. I don't get to use a word like that about a (mostly) contemporary book heroine often and that made her refreshing. I loved watching her sort through her own past and stand, watching and wishing for a way to help, as Breckon's grief threatened to weigh him down. As she slowly came into her own and began to be able to do things I cheered for her. Despite her own loss -- death even -- she was determined that she would find a way to help him. For me, it isn't so much a question of her succeeding or not that made her heroic, but rather her willingness to be there for another when she was trapped in a time of great need herself.

That's not to say that Breckon is the lesser of the two characters, weak, or anything like that. The complexities of his character -- and the absolutely "Oh, no he *didn't!*" revelation that is shown near the end of the book, which I'm not going into! -- will have you thoroughly convinced that despite everything he goes through here, he is totally worth fighting for. And ultimately, that he is a fighter himself, who is destined to move on from what is holding him down. Writing a character who is drowning, and making sure that the reader doesn't suddenly decide that drowning him would be alright, is challenging. C.K. Kelly Martin takes this challenge head on and succeeds.

The rest of the cast is equally solid. We see, through Breckon's parents, varying levels of coping with grief. His beat friend Ty and girlfriend Jules are both great. And who can't help but love a book with a pomeranian named Moose? Not me, that's for sure.

The Romance: 

As I stated earlier, this is not a love story (at least of the romantic kind -- there is certainly a thorough exploration of other types of love.). However, I have to give credit where it's due. I feel that the relationship between Breckon and Jules was handled very well here. It added a layer of depth to a much larger story and was used to great effect to show how everything that was happening was changing multiple aspects of Breckon's life. (As well as helping Ashlyn recall hers.)

In General: 

There are really only two ways that a book like this can go for me. Either it's totally awesome and I love it and I end up thinking an author had a stroke of genius writing it. Or I'm frustrated by it and it ends up getting used as a frisbee and potentially breaking my TV. My Beating Teenage Heart is the former of these two scenarios. It's honest and real where it needs to be, it has a cool hint of what might lie beyond which does not take away from the 'reality' of the book, and despite the sorrow facing its characters, it is ultimately a message of love, forgiveness and hope. I can't praise this high enough.


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