Ellen and her brother Link attend an elite, private high school in Manhattan. He is an incoming senior researching Ivy League schools. She just received Rollerblades for her 14th birthday. Link’s a math whiz and a genius, while Ellen is happy to be average. Link likes his best friend James, but Ellen likes “super cute” James too. The three of them form an unlikely friendship, in which Ellen loves them equally. She’s perfectly content and comfortable to have no other friends her age or gender in addition to being deeply and unrequited-ly in love with James until a school mate questions the nature of the boys’ relationship.
And despite being close to them, Ellen doesn’t know herself. Going to her mother and finding she is also in the dark Ellen gathers all her naïve confidence and confronts James and Link themselves. What she finds astonishes her and changes James, Link, and their relationship permanently as well as providing a springboard for Ellen to discover love and identity of all kinds.
Sometimes the best things come in small packages, and in the case of My Heartbeat, it couldn’t be truer. Though I read it in one, short sitting the characters and relationships in this book have left a much longer-lasting mark. From the first page I identified with Ellen and eased comfortably into her relationship with Link and James. I was surprised at how subtle the issue of sexual identity emerged and how honestly it was handled. This potentially controversial subject comes off completely natural and normal and is only part of the many subjects and relationship types this book explores. I was happily taken aback and proved wrong many times when I almost without knowing pigeon-holed certain characters or tried to predict the plot. What Garret Freymann-Weyr portrays is real, honest life without the stereotypes. Even Ellen’s mother and father surprised me in their depth, particularly for YA parents. What hooked me though was the spare, pointed writing and Ellen. She genuinely loves both Link and James and only wants the best for them. Even if it’s not in her best interest, as this quote illustrates:
It is true I would follow James to the moon. But if Link would let me, I would follow him anywhere he wanted.
Her naïve innocence and maturity are raw and endearing. The life lessons Ellen learns are sweet and profound. With a perfectly hopeful and understated ending and fluid style, I’m surprised My Heartbeat isn’t more well-known. It undoubtedly stands out from the YA contemporary crowd and deserves more readers. For now and always I’m proud to count myself as one of them and will surely be checking out Garret Freymann-Weyr’s other books.