Initial reaction: I really appreciated this latest book from Elizabeth Scott. It takes on a tough matter when Emma's stepfather Dan keeps his deceased wife alive for their baby to be born, but Emma's angry over the decision for a multitude of reasons. It's a difficult read in many places, but I thought the subject matter was handled well, as were the characters.
Elizabeth Scott's "Heartbeat" is ultimately a story of grief in a wide variety of forms. This is probably a narrative that won't strike people in the same way because of the nature of the issue that's presented, but Scott has a way of skillfully portraying stories of grief that I really admire, and I respect this just as much as "Living Dead Girl" or any of the stories I've read from her thus far. What makes this one difficult to swallow isn't just the subject matter, but rather the protagonist's attempt to grapple with the turns of events and ultimately come to terms with the reality of it all.
Emma used to be a lot of things before her mother died. High acheiving student, excited about the baby brother that was coming into their lives. But when her mother unexpectedly passes, Emma's stepfather Dan makes the decision to keep her mother on machines in order to save the life of the baby inside her. Emma does not take this news well. She not only can't come to grips that he made such a decision, but feels that his decision was selfish - that he doesn't miss her mother and that Emma's mother didn't want the baby in the first place. It causes a very striking rift between their relationship, and Emma does not let him live it down.
I'll admit that there were times that I was frustrated with Emma in the go betweens of these arguments, but I also recognized that she was in just as much a space of pain for what her actions lent. In addition to losing her mother, her stepfather seems barely in the picture apart from his own pain and overfocus on the baby, Emma's fallen out of sorts with her schoolwork and is barely making anything work, her old boyfriend is a space of bitterness in her life for what she realizes he wasn't, among other matters.
She does find a common ground with Caleb, a boy from her school working in the hospital that has his own significant weights with grief. Feeling responsible for his sister's death and the rift it's created within his family, he's done his share of lashing out and getting into trouble which his mother and father haven't forgiven him for, but Emma and Caleb's growing bond and spaces of understanding did resonate with me in the spectrum of the work. I liked watching their respective rapport develop over time.
I think Emma took a long road to coming to terms with her family situation, through the memories she walks through, through the sharp dialogues she exchanges with Dan, and ultimately the support she has from both Caleb and her best friend. It's not so much a story in which the heroine is healed by anyone, but rather has to come to her respective terms herself over time. The ending is a little more abrupt than I was expecting, but it does have a nice tie of events and progression for moving forward. Ultimately, despite spaces where I did find Emma unlikable, I sympathized and grew to care for her respective story here. Overall, a well noted effort for Scott and I would certainly recommend "Heartbeat" for the way it makes you think about the character's grief and ultimately her way of moving forward - of the general measure of being able to move forward in the space of loss, anger, and grief.
Overall score: 4/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Harlequin TEEN.