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on Jan. 07, 2012 :
Vida is 19 years old and dying. She's been dying her entire life. Not in the vague way that we are all destined to die, but in a way that has led her through multiple heart surgeries in her short life. This time, it's for real. Her doctors are talking weeks if she's lucky. She's been bumped to the top of the waiting list for heart transplants. And then she gets a new heart and she's able to start living.
On the flip side, Richard has everything. A job and a wife that he loves. Until he loses Lorrie in a tragic car accident. He chooses to donate her organs and Vida gets her heart. Vida's and Richard's lives are forever entwined after that. The first time Richard walks into her hospital room after the transplant, Vida tells him that she loves him. She's never met him before, but she feels a deep, romantic love for him.
At my old job, I was the tiniest of tiny cogs in the transplant process. I did electrocardiograms on the donors so that doctors could make sure the heart was in good working order from an "electrical" standpoint. I was glad that the families had chosen to donate their loved ones' organs, but I hated that part of the job. I never saw the recipients (the actual transplant happened in larger hospitals), so I only saw the donors, and I knew that this beautiful child, wife, father, loved one would not be going home to his or her family. They were all beautiful and they were all young. I didn't do it often, but I was never able to detach myself from the sadness on that end. It was hard for me, to say the least.
It was nice to read a book where I could really sort of experience the life that comes out of such a tragic loss/beautiful gift. Vida, meaning life in Spanish, is a perfect mix of wisdom and innocence. She's led a very sheltered life by necessity. She hasn't been able to get out and run around and play, simply because her weak heart wouldn't let her. She's experienced most of her life from the inside of her house, looking out at the world through a window. Staring the reality of death down daily has led her to realize what is important in life though. Relationships, fairness, and honesty are always important to her. After the transplant, she wants to see as much of the world as she can and face everything on her own terms. She knows how much she's missed and she's making up for lost time.
Richard says something that really made me think. Vida's mother asks him why he decided to donate, and his first response is a stock reply of "Wouldn't anybody?" He talks through it a little and eventually comes to a reason that feels real. "I know why I donated. I wanted people to never forget her. As many as possible. This way I knew you would never forget her, and neither would Vida. And anybody who loved Vida. And the woman in Tiburon who got her corneas, she'll never forget Lorrie, and neither will her family and everybody who loves her. And I could go on with the other organs, but ... I wanted as big a group of people as possible to think about Lorrie on an ongoing basis. Not just get over it and forget." That's possibly one of the most compelling reasons I've ever come across for organ donation. Sure, saving a stranger's life should be the best reason, but in the throes of grief, it's got to be hard to think about that. Something that helps others remember your loved one? That might get through.
Vida's best friend is her neighbor, Ethel, a 90-ish concentration camp survivor. You know I'm drawn to concentration camp stories, so I liked the element. There was a reason for it though. After Vida's transplant, they have a thoughtful conversation about the purpose of a life that came so close to death. Ethel has lived her life in a bubble, almost afraid to live. Vida is choosing to seize the opportunity she's been given and squeeze everything she can out of it.
The biggest part of the book revolves around cellular memory. I don't think I've ever heard about this, but I'm curious. Apparently there's a hypothesis that our memories do not reside solely in our brain; our very cells might retain memories. Think about what that would mean in organ donation. Scientists are studying recipients who suddenly develop traits similar to the donors whose organs they've received, or even "remember" things that never happened to them but did happen to the donor. It was pretty fascinating.
I liked the way things turned out. I won't go into it, I just wasn't sure that I was very happy with the obvious ending, but there was a twist that made me very happy.
I was expecting sort of a light chick-lit book when I started this. I'm left with a lot to think over, and I'm very happy about that. There's a lot going on in this short-ish novel. I recommend it.
(reviewed long after purchase)
on Nov. 13, 2011 :
What can I say that has not already been said about Second Hand Heart? It is an emotional reminder if you have ever been on the waiting side or the giving side of what my family calls "your final gift" or commonly known as organ and tissue donation. My father was a donor and one of his friends was a recipient. With our friend, we witnessed the agony of waiting and thankfully, the joy of receiving. With my father, we gave his final gift to help others and in turn, it helped us with our loss. Knowing that two could see and hundreds of others could be helped because of the donation, we know he lives on not only in our hearts but by helping others live their lives a little better because he was here and was a donor.
Second Hand Heart takes you on a similar journey. Vida and her mother, hoping for "the call" that a heart had been found and was a match. Richard, dealing with the sudden loss of his wife and allowing her final gifts to be given but when it comes to Lorrie's heart, is he really ready to let her go? Could it be that Lorrie's heart does remember him while living now in Vida? Please read this extraordinary book and decide for yourself.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Nov. 13, 2011 :
I had the good fortune of connecting with Catherine Ryan Hyde this summer as a result of an adolescent literature class I took. One of the books I was required to read was Ryan Hyde’s Jumpstart the World, which addressed some LGBTQ issues. I really liked Jumpstart the World, and was stoked when my class had the opportunity to visit with her via Skype. I was also thrilled to have the opportunity to get a copy Secondhand Heart in order to read and review it. I am so glad I did. I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.
The narrative of Secondhand Heart is shared between 19 year old Vida, who is in desperate need of a new heart, and 36 year old Richard, who is the husband of the donor whose heart finds itself beating in Vida’s body. Their story is told in form of journal entries, which may take some getting used to, but it helps make the character voices more authentic and distinctive.
What I really like about this book is its sheer, raw emotion. Vida has spent her entire life in a fairly sterile, safe environment due to the fragility of her heart and health. When she gets the unexpected news she is getting a “new” heart, she is thrust back into the world of the living. She isn’t prepared to live because she’s been preparing to die. Richard has lost his wife in a tragic accident and he no longer knows how to live. He doesn’t allow himself to grieve, and instead agrees to meet Vida. Thus begins an interesting journey fueled by the cellular memories of Vida’s donor heart, and Richard’s inability to let go of the heart that is no longer his to love. Even if you don’t really believe in the whole cellular memory thing, the story of Vida and Richard will at least give you something to think about.
(reviewed long after purchase)
on Sep. 17, 2011 :
Posted on: http://readersedyn.blogspot.com/2011/09/review-second-hand-heart-by-catherine.html
I have a goal of shortening my reviews, but I find I have a lot to say about this book primarily because I relate to it on a number of levels. First and foremost being experience with a child born with a heart condition. Two years ago, at the age of 1 week, my son was diagnosed with Velcardiofacial Syndrome (VCF). This condition occurs at conception, involves the absence of ½ of the 22nd chromosome, and unfortunately can manifest in over 180 ways in any combination. My son was afflicted with bilateral cleft lip, complete cleft palate, club feet, and a double aortic arch causing a vascular ring. At 10 days old, he underwent a vascular ring repair and began his second chance at life. He is one of the “lucky” children with VCF and has been thriving ever since the surgery despite ongoing medical care.
Second, just last month my family experienced the miraculous beauty of the Grand Canyon. Pretty sad that as an Arizona resident it was my first visit there. Every detail mentioned about the canyon was spot on!
Finally, and somewhat ironically, I read this book during a move because we had a 90 minute drive between the old house in Rimrock and our new house in Williams. The mention of Williams made me smile, as well as Vida’s visit to the Williams Visitor Center.
This book follows Vida, a 19 year-old who has come to terms with death because of her life-long struggle with a defective heart. At the last minute she receives a heart and suddenly everything changes. Also followed is Richard, the husband of the donor and his struggle with moving forward. The story, to say the least, is a spectrum of the human ability to cope.
What I disliked in the story was the absence of Vida’s father. His love for her is obvious, but I would have thought he would have played a slightly larger par considering the circumstances.
I enjoyed numerous components to the story beginning with the format. The story is told through a series of journal entries and e-mail correspondences. Readers are given a change of pace through the telling, effectively giving life to the voices sharing their innermost thoughts. I also appreciated the thoughts and discussions surrounding cellular memory. Whatever personal belief one may hold, the theory is definitely beyond intriguing.
I strongly recommend this book for all; especially those who blessedly remain unaffected by such traumatic events. The brief glimpse into such an experience is priceless. The tribute to and resiliency of humans and the ability to evolve, even in the face of such devastating circumstances, is both inspiring and not to be missed in this heart-felt story.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Sep. 14, 2011 :
Second Hand Heart is a thoroughly enjoyable novel about a young woman, nineteen-year old Vida, who needs a heart transplant. I was immediately struck by Vida’s youth, but yet she possesses wisdom and insight beyond her years. She has been an observer of life, never a participant. She accepts that death is a part of life; in her case, it’s inevitable. She believes it’s about where you are, not whether you are. Her life is a light that will dim, flicker and then go out. Her peace can be felt as you read her words.
Richard just lost his wife, Lorrie, the love of his life. Throughout the book, he is beleaguered, stumbling through as he deals with his immense grief. He honors Lorrie’s wishes by donating her organs. He decides to meet Vida, who is the recipient of his wife’s heart. When Vida claims that she remembers him and loves him, he thinks she’s just a young, impulsive girl.
As Vida learns how to live a normal life and Richard comes to terms with his wife’s death, they remain undeniably connected.
Second Hand Heart is an uplifting story of two very different people as they overcome life’s tragedies and learn how to live again. Ms. Ryan Hyde shares insightful wisdom throughout with lessons we can all learn from.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Sep. 10, 2011 :
Second Hand Heart is now available in the US as an ebook, and that’s a good thing. Publishers here didn’t grab the book when it first appeared, and that’s puzzling because this is an excellent novel. A young girl, Vida (Spanish for life), gets a heart transplant and for the first time is free of the thought that she could die at any moment. Hyde could have left it at that. She does not. She probes grief, love, parenthood, resentment, friendship and a variety of seemingly unrelated topics. This is not fluff reading, nor is it merely the story of Vida’s heart transplant and her emergence into adulthood from the protective cocoon required by her sickly youth. Hyde transports us on a voyage in which Vida’s mother, the donor, an elderly neighbor and several other well defined characters provide threads woven together masterfully. As is always the case with her novels, Hyde’s protagonist periodically drops in memorable pieces of wisdom. I particularly loved the notion that worries should come with labels on them; I’ll leave it to the reader to find out why. In an afterword, the author discusses the personal origins of the story.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Aug. 27, 2011 :
This novel, originally released in the UK and newly available in the states in ebook and paperback format, follows the story of Vida and Richard, two people on different sides of a heart transplant. Ms. Ryan Hyde drew from experiences with her own niece, who was born with a heart defect, and tells the journey of both people with a rare grace and sincerity. Both characters deliver their story in first person, journal-style, alternating their voices with each chapter.
A new tense should be invented for Ms. Ryan Hyde’s skillful rendition of journal-entry description and pacing. It gives the story a raw quality and a simplicity that strikes at the fundamental human experiences we all share, regardless of what is actually happening to the characters. The characters are richly present in our minds, and easy to connect with in our hearts. It’s difficult at first to keep with the journal-style, if one is used to ordinary first-person-past or first-person-present, but extremely worth it. You see the characters develop in a real-time fashion, and you arrive at their destination along with them. Their journey is messy sometimes, with dead ends and false hopes, but life is like that, isn’t it?
Above all, this book is an exquisite celebration of life, and what it means to live. Sharing the eyes of a girl who goes from knowing every day may be her last, to discovering the outside world and the possibility that there may be a tomorrow worth waking up to, is refreshing to some of us that may take the whole routine of getting up and going to sleep for granted. But it is never once condescending or pedantic. On the other side, is a celebration of letting go – the process of grief, of knowing you have to move on yet such a thing is impossible – and what we do to try, and that was a lovely counter-balance to the other story. Life seems to be full of opportunities and losses and things that don’t make sense, in good ways and bad. But we have one another--strangers, friends, family, godsends--to help navigate our way, and at the least we are alone but not really. Not in the way that breaks us, but in a way that gives us options.
Ms. Ryan Hyde carries a fundamental celebration of humanity, and everyday magic between people and in life, through all of her writings, and yet one could read all fourteen of her novels and her collection of short stories in a single marathon and each would still be extraordinary. She writes with an originality that never gets old.
I would highly recommend this story to anyone who has ever wondered about the magic of transplants, or ever had a crushing loss, or ever had a second chance at life but shared that opportunity with an invisible force that made it just slightly impossible to really take life on. In other words, I think everyone should read it. You’ll be glad you did.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)