I chose Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Second Hand Heart from Transworld’s Summer Reading Challenge list because she and I share two names and three initials, and once on Goodreads someone sent me a message saying they really enjoyed Pay It Forward. However despite loving the big screen adaptation of that book – it starred Kevin Spacey, and I was at the height of my age-inappropriate, post-American Beauty Kevin Spacey crush – I knew little about Hyde (or is it Ryan Hyde? I suffer from the same problem!), and jumped at the chance to finally read her work.
A bestselling author, Hyde’s success in her native USA raced to this side of the pond when Richard and Judy made her novel Love in the Present Tense a book club pick in 2007. Second Hand Heart is published in the UK next month and yes, being the uber book nerd that I am, I let out a little squeal of delight when I saw the words ‘Proof copy – not for resale’ at the top of the front cover. If you ever want to make me feel special, forget flowers – a pre-publication proof copy will do just fine…
“One girl: Vida is nineteen, very ill, and has spent her short life preparing for her death. But a new chance brings its own story, because for Vida to live, someone had to die. One man: Richard has just lost his beloved wife in a car accident. He hasn’t even begun to address his grief, but feels compelled to meet the girl who inherited his wife’s heart. Someone else’s heart: In hospital Vida sees Richard and immediately falls in love. Of course he dismisses her as foolish child. But is she? Can two people by bound by a second hand heart?”
I thought I had the measure of this book a few pages in. I tend to be biased against books told through e-mails or diary entries, and this was both. I didn’t immediately warm to Vida and having read my fair share of heart transplant/other life threatening medical ailment schmaltz in the past, I figured I knew what was coming, pretty much. In fact, if anyone had asked me what the book was about at that point, I would have laid the entire plot out for them, so sure was I of the ways things were going to unfold.
But boy – was I wrong!
Everything about this book is unexpected. You think you’re in for one thing, but you get quite another. The characters don’t behave the way I thought they would, the story unfolds in a landscape utterly different to where it begins and instead of being pleasantly entertained by a sweet story for 450 or so pages, I found a moving lesson about living as oppose to just existing. What’s especially wonderful is how simply and sparingly Hyde writes, and yet she still manages to drench you in emotion with her words. While other books strain so much to stir your feelings they give themselves hemorrhoids (sorry for the imagery – just thought that that was the best description!), Hyde does it effortlessly which, of course, only makes it feel even more impactful, as it hits you unexpectedly.
There’s plenty more I could say about this book, but I don’t want to give too much way. Discovering a new author you like is always a nice surprise, and I can’t wait now to read Hyde’s other novels, as I expect I’ll really enjoy them too.
P.S. I’m sorry to always harp on about things that have nothing to do with the work itself, but AAAARRRRRGH! (And that’s not a pirate impression, in case you thought it was, but a frustrated groan.) Maybe I read too much into things – no pun intended; ha! – but what’s with the imitation Jodi Picoult cover? And what in the name of fudge does that picture have to do with the plot? And couldn’t they even change the font up a little? Yes, Jodi Picoult fans will absolutely love this book, but you don’t have to try to trick them into buying it, publishers!
UPDATE: The day this review went live, I got an e-mail from Catherine Ryan Hyde entitled, ‘It must be the initials…’! It was so unexpected; she is, after all, an internationally best-selling author and presumably super busy. I know though that being in contact with her readers is very important to her – you can tell from her website. Anyway, suffice to say that she is clearly the nicest person ever and I am DEFINITELY going to read all her other books now…!