In a Heartbeat, by Loretta Ellsworth (2010, Bloomsbury, YA, 208 pp)
One heartbeat is all it takes for sixteen-year old Eagan to make a mistake while performing a difficult jump in an ice skating competition. A mistake that ends her life.
Each painful heartbeat might be the last for fourteen-year old Amanda, waiting for someone to die and give her the gift of a new chance at life.
Amanda receives Eagan's heart. But Eagan is not gone. She lingers in limbo, reflecting on her life--her intense focus on skating, her difficult relationship with her mother, and the growing love she had for her first boyfriend. And Amanda finds that she has changed--more than just her new found strength, she feels that the heart inside her has given her part of another personality. She dreams of figure skating, snaps at her own mother, and becomes convinced that she must find out more about the girl whose heart now beats inside of her.
The story alternates between the viewpoints of the two girls, one living, one dead. Eagan's story is the more detailed of the two, told in a series of lengthy, detailed flashbacks (it's almost enough to be its own YA book). In contrast, Amanda's past is essentially left out of the story--we meet her just as she is heading to the hospital. This works rather nicely, because it is Eagan's past that is going into creating the new Amanda. Eagan is older than Amanda, in attitude as well as age, and so, in several senses, Amanda's coming of age is a legacy from Eagan.
The intersection of their two lives makes for a fascinating book--how much of Eagan is in fact still alive in Amanda, and how will this change Amanda's life? Yet the fantasy element, although very essential to the story, doesn't overshadow their individual situations; it drives the plot, but doesn't distract from the familiar YA themes of growing up, separating from parents, and deciding who you want to be that are at the center of the book. Which means that this is one that will probably appeal more to readers of YA who like fantasy on the side than it will to readers of Fantasy who like YA, if you know what I mean. I am almost tempted not to label this fantasy at all, in fact (and the cover is totally YA), but feel I can't not, in as much as it is....kind of.
This is a rather young YA--even though I think Eagan gets more page time, it is the younger girl, Amanda, whose point of view dominates. And the romance aspect of the plot is Suitable for Younger Readers.
You can read an interview with Ellsworth here at Elizabeth Dulemba's blog, where you can also see the trailer for the book, and find the links to the other bloggers taking part in her book tour.
(note: ARC received from the publisher)