Published by Random House Children's Books on 5/12/15
Genres: Diseases Illnesses & Injuries, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Sports & Recreation, Young Adult
Source: Blog Tour, NetGalley
My content rating: YA (Talk of sex, but none is shown)
Readers will happily sink into this emotionally grounded, contemporary young adult novel about the sudden end of one girl's Olympic swimming dreams and the struggles she endures before realizing there are many things that define who we are.
Sixteen-year-old Abby Lipman is on track to win the state swim championships and qualify for the Olympic trials when a fainting incident at a swim meet leads to the diagnosis of a deadly heart condition. Now Abby is forced to discover who she is without the one thing that's defined her entire life.
When I signed up for this tour, I was told to write about something sporty. I thought for a moment that this might be impossible, because I am one of the least sporty people in the universe. Unless you count marathon reading as a sport, I’m pretty much lost.
But, then I realized I DO have something to write about. I may not be athletically inclined, but my daughter and husband both are – at least in certain things. My daughter is a gymnast. She trains nine hours per week (soon to go up to twelve), and she works hard. I am always amazed at this girl’s intensity and focus. And, here’s the thing – athleticism doesn’t come naturally to her. She didn’t miraculously get genes for grace and strength out of nowhere. She isn’t one of those athletes who seemed to be born with natural ability coming out of her ears. But what she did get, she got from her father – the drive to push herself to her limits.
My husband isn’t particularly sporty either. He doesn’t watch a single sport, and he never did more than a season or two of a random team sport when he was a kid. But when he got into high school he discovered one thing he could push himself to do, merely by force of will – run. As an adult, he ran a marathon. This took many grueling hours of training and pretty much wrecked his body in some ways, but he did it. And he wasn’t satisfied with just completing a marathon – no, he set himself some pretty lofty pace goals. And he met them.
See, my husband doesn’t give up when he wants something, and he’s taught my daughter that sort of drive and endurance too. Sure, I feel like a couch potato next to them (he hasn’t managed to convince me to run any more than a 5k – and that was only once), but I’m very thankful that my kids have him as an excellent example of the things we can do when we push ourselves. My daughter may not ever be a superstar, all-around gold medal gymnast, but she’s always going to be the very best she can be – and in the end, I think that’s going to serve her better than any medal ever could.
A Matter of Heart is about one girl’s struggle to accept the loss of a dream – the loss of everything that she believes makes her who she is. The thing that makes her special. It’s a story that we can all relate to, in some respects, even if we’re not particularly sporty people (as I said above, I’m certainly not!). All of us have things that we use to define ourselves – our talents, our jobs, our friends, our kids, our intelligence … the list goes on. So, we can all understand what it might feel like to have those things stripped away from us suddenly. This book will make you think about all of that.
What I loved:
- Dealing with the loss of a dream. Abby’s struggle felt completely realistic to me. She had trained her entire life to be an Olympic level swimmer, and she had a real chance to make it. Then, the dream is suddenly snatched away from her. She doesn’t take this news lying down – she doesn’t just accept it. Sometimes she makes really frustrating and dangerous decisions that, as a mom, made me want to scream at her. But I could understand why. And there are even some people who present her with really almost-valid sounding arguments about why she should keep going (there really are plenty of athletes out there who put their lives at risk way more than the average person would find reasonable). So, Abby needs to decide what she values more – her life or her dream. It’s not as easy of a decision as you’d think!
- Family. This is a YA book with involved parents – Abby has two parents who adore her. Sure, they didn’t always agree about what was best for Abby, but this felt pretty realistic to me (I’m a mom – I know that parents don’t always agree), and it was nice to see that the conflict didn’t drive the family apart – as it so often does in YA books. For a little while, I was concerned that Abby’s father was too hung up on her swimming and might actually value it enough to risk her life, but that wasn’t really the case. Thought the family aspect of the book was great!!
- Friendship. I adored Abby’s friendship with her bestie Jen, who was there for Abby when things got hard but also gave Abby some tough love when she wanted to take chances with her love. I also loved Jen’s practical views on sex and romance – it was refreshing to see a teen character who was trying hard to think with her head instead of her hormones! Mostly, though, I just loved that Jen and Abby were there for each other through thick and thin and that they didn’t let arguments or petty jealousies tear them apart.
- Alec. I loved Alec and how his story ran parallel to Abby’s – his struggles and desire to prove himself were very similar to what Abby went through, and it was Abby’s recognition of this that drew her to him. Sure, this formed a bit of a love triangle, but the triangle was part of Abby’s story – her realization of who she could be outside of swimming – so it was fitting.
- Not enough growth. When I read the synopsis of this book, I was thinking that the book was mostly going to be about Abby figuring out who she was outside of swimming, but this wasn’t really the case. It was more about how her life fell apart when she discovered that she couldn’t pursue her dream and how she fought against that new truth. Really, Abby didn’t accept the reality of her condition until the very end of the book, and we didn’t get any sort of glimpse into who she is without swimming. That’s understandable, considering how much of Abby’s life was wrapped up in her Olympic dreams, but I guess I just would have liked to see some of that transformation. Instead, we got to see her struggle without really seeing much of her ultimate growth.
This is a great book for teens, especially for any kid who’s passionate about something – whether it’s sports, music, etc. I give this book 3.5/5 stars.
***Disclosure: I received this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
Amy Fellner Dominy worked as a copywriter in the advertising business before leaving to earn her MFA in playwriting. Her plays for adults and children have been staged in various cities around the country. Amy’s novels for teens include OyMG (Walker, 2011) and AUDITION & SUBTRACTION (Walker, 2012.) Amy’s next book is a contemporary YA coming Spring, 2015 from Random House. It’s called A MATTER OF HEART.