A half an inch changed Eagan’s life, but a half an inch saved Amelia’s.
In a Heartbeat by Loretta Ellsworth tells us the interwoven stories of two girls whose lives change in a matter of microseconds. Told through alternating perspectives and time frames, we learn about the horrible heart condition that has impacted Amelia’s life forever and about the passion for ice skating that ultimately takes Eagan’s life.
Ellsworth’s prose is lovely and fluid, and she offers us unique insights into the lives of two very different characters. Eagan’s passion for ice skating is well-delivered, as is her rocky relationship with her mother. Postmortem, we see Eagan interact with her present self in the afterlife and her past life on Earth. The dual perspective helps push the plot forward, and I quite enjoyed the person that Eagan runs into while in the afterlife. I don’t think it’s ever made explicit who Miki is, but as a reader, I picked up on that quickly and found it a nice touch.
As for Amelia, her story is told entirely from the present perspective. I must admit to never feeling much connected to her, as I found she didn’t seem to have many interests or passions in the manner that Eagan did. She’d been sick for a long time, but that didn’t seem to me enough to make her a fully realized character. Near the end of the story, Amelia chooses to take a trip from Minneapolis to Milwaukee with a guy she met at the hospital, and for me, this entire sequence didn’t make sense to who I thought Amelia was. A little further growth in her would have helped me feel more attached to her.
This is a book for fans of medical stories. You know who you are, and you know exactly who you can sell this title to if you’re not a fan yourself. The pacing is well-done, though I did find the time shift a bit jarring the first time it happened in Eagan’s story, but once that hurdle is jumped, it moves smoothly. This is one you can hand as easily to a 13-year-old as to a 18-year-old, though some older readers might find some of the situations unrealistic. There are few, if any, language or situational concerns.
One comment I need to make: has anyone else noticed a trend in YA lit to tell the end of the story in the first chapter? I can’t seem to place titles this second, but it seems to me more and more stories are throwing out the ending from the beginning and then telling the story backwards. It irritates me as a reader, since it never allows me the chance to figure out what’s going to happen. I knew from page 2 how this would progress. This stylistic choice feels like I’m being talked down to, like I might not pick up the thrust of the story if it weren’t told to me from the beginning.
On the whole, In a Heartbeat is a good book, and it will have appeal. For me, though, I never quite engaged enough nor did I find myself feeling satisfied at the end.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).