Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book Review: Cold Hands, Warm Heart

Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson. (Grades 8+)

Amanda is a star gymnast.
Dani struggles to walk across a room.
They've never met. But they're about to become more intimate than most people can even imagine.

Dani was born with her heart on the wrong side of her body. It's a failing heart, a broken heart, and there's only one option if she's going to see her sixteenth birthday: a heart transplant. When Amanda breaks her neck in a gymnastics accident, Dani receives the ultimate gift: a donor heart.

In Cold Hands, Warm Heart we get Dani's story, but we also get the perspective of Amanda's family as they deal with devastating loss and a tough decision.

I had to pick up this book after Amanda blogged about it. I share her fascination with medical novels and this one did not disappoint. I guess my interest in medicine stems from my mom who is a retired pediatrician. So, yes, I picked this one up because it's about organs and surgery and meds... but what I really fell in love with was Dani's voice.

She's funny! Dani's got that sarcastic humor that I really dig. Take this passage where she's describing her condition:

Fifteen years ago, I got taken out of the womb with my heart on the wrong side of my body, the right as opposed to the left. There's a technical name for it, dextrocardia, but I invented my own: Dani's Freakish Feng Shui Chest Cavity.

I could have lived just fine like that. No problem. It was all the other crazy stuff, like screwed-up valves and how messed up the wall separating the two sides of my heart was. Nobody expected me to live long, but I did - long enough to start a whole big stink in seventh grade by putting my left hand over my heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. Certain girls accused me of being unpatriotic. It was very gratifying to hear the president of the Young Patriot's Club grovel and apologize when my mom set them straight
. (pg 26)

I thought to myself, "Here's a feisty girl. Here's a heart patient I can get on board with." I would have been completely happy had the entire novel been written from Dani's point of view. But the more I read from other points of view, the more I appreciated the alternating narration. You get little glimpses of the transplant coordinator, the courier who delivers the organs, even Dani's bratty eight-year-old kidney patient roommate.

Tyler's the other major narrator. He's Amanda's older brother and now that his sister has died, he's figuring out how little he actually knew her. Tyler has Amanda's computer and while his parents are taking comfort in the Jewish grieving rituals, he's getting to know his sister. Getting to know her and saying goodbye at the same time.

Funny and heartbreaking and hopeful with a little romance thrown in (Dani and a transplant patient at the hospital - Milo who's hoping for a second chance that he might not deserve), Cold Hands, Warm Heart is a novel that will stick with me for a long time. If you're interested in medical books or if you like books with realistic, imperfect characters, pick this one up. I might also recommend this to fans of Lurlene McDaniel who are looking for meatier fare.

(Oh, and I'll chime in with Amanda and say that I did not particularly care for the cover. It didn't make me want to pick up the book. Any teens reading? What do YOU think?)