Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany

4 Star

When a young mother dies under mysterious circumstances, those she leaves behind begin looking for answers in the past—and find a long-buried secret they could have never imagined. Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time stepmom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be?

At thirteen, Ava Hansen is mature beyond her years. Since her parents’ divorce, she has been the one taking care of her emotionally unstable mother and her little brother—she pays the bills, does the laundry, and never complains because she loves her mama more than anyone. And while her father’s new girlfriend is nice enough, Ava still holds out hope that her parents will get back together and that they’ll be a family again.

But only days after Victor and Grace get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances—and soon, Grace and Ava discover there was much more to Kelli’s life than either ever knew.
Lydia - 4 Star

Heart Like Mine was my first novel by Hatvany and I definitely enjoyed it. It was a heartfelt, gripping, and compelling read about family, love and motherhood and what happens when the life you expected is suddenly ripped away.

This novel explores a family squashed together when they so desperately want a different version of the family they’ve been forced to settle into. Grace is thrown into motherhood when she never wanted children in the first place. She settled for the title of part-time step mom after falling in love with Victor, but when his ex-wife is found dead, she’s vaulted into the role of full time mom when all she wants is the quiet life she imagined with the man she loves. Her step daughter, Ava, is desperately pining for her mother and her old life. Even in her flashbacks, she wants her father back in their lives permanently. And finally, told in flashbacks prior to her death, Ava’s mother, Kelli, desperately wants her husband and family of four back. None of their wishes come to fruition, and Heart Like Mine explores whether they will be able to accept and unite their newfound family.

Initially, I didn’t quite latch on to the characters as I wanted to. While I understood Grace’s situation and her doubts about suddenly being thrown into the role of full time step mom when she never intended to become a mother herself, her questioning the situation made her less endearing to me. I’m not even sure why because it was a perfectly realistic apprehension on her part and is very likely something anyone in her shoes would feel, even if they wanted to become a mother.  I think I might have needed to see another, softer side to her – maybe some interactions with her clients at the women’s shelter would have helped to ground her personality and show she’s not heartless, which she completely is not. But for some reason, seeing her fears without knowing her (because this all happens rather quickly at the beginning of the novel) made her a smidgen less likeable to me straight out when I wanted to love her. Over time, I grew to enjoy and love her character though.

The alternating points of view were done well. I did think – as I have with some other novels lately with younger characters – that at times Ava’s point of view was a bit wordier than I would have anticipated a thirteen year old girl speaking or thinking, regardless of how mature Ava was or had to become with her mother’s inabilities. At times it popped me out of the story as I sat back and wondered if the thirteen year olds I knew would say something like Ava did or have the words she did to think that way. Overall though, her reaction at her mother’s death, her anguish, and her questioning felt realistic.

The scenes with the kids were so heart wrenching that I had a difficult time reading some of them. The honesty of these characters was refreshing, even with my concerns about Grace at the beginning. The suspense of Kelli’s death and her history were woven through this story expertly. I was desperate to find out what happened to her, as well as to find out whether the family she left behind would splinter and fall apart or rebound strong and survive.

Hatvany’s writing is easy to read, her characters flawed, but relatable, and the issues she explores are contemporary, realistic, and poignant to our times. I will definitely be seeking more from this talented author.  

Thank you to Washington Square Press for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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