Heartbeat is perhaps not what you would expect me to read. That’s because it’s intended for a different audience, girls aged 9-12. My daughter put me on to this book. She needed to do a book report, and her teacher put her on to it. What she liked in particular was the format: 180 pages of free verse, about 10,000 words.
But what author Sharon Creech does with those 10,000 words! Sharon Creech won the Newbery Medal for Walk Two Moons, and the same savoir faire is revealed in the pages of Heartbeat. The touching story is so artistically rendered, this 30-something man found it enjoyable and memorable.
12-year-old Annie loves to run, just for the fun of it. And so begins the story:
bare feet hitting the grass
as I run run run
in the air and like the air
weaving through the trees
skimming over the ground
Annie’s friend Max also loves to run, but he runs for the competition of it. He says he’s “training to escape,” whatever that means. And he pressures her to join the track team. But Annie is an artist, not a jock. She seems repulsed at the suggestion that she should join the team, though she does not know why. And now she must choose between her deep beliefs and pleasing her friend. At that age, she does not realize all that she is, all that she can do, how remarkable are her talents and her unique point of view.
Annie is also going to get a new baby brother or sister. At first, she doesn’t understand why her mother started taking naps and stopped eating and started throwing up everywhere.
Meanwhile, her grandfather slips in and out of coherency, as the baby prepares to be born. We wonder whether he will “kick the bucket” before he can see the baby. He ran too, raced, when he was young. But after he won a trophy, he put away his running shoes forever, and Annie wants to know why.
These are clearly children’s themes. Yet I enjoyed sharing Heartbeat with my daughter. Heartbeat made me feel at the same time young and old, reminiscent, seeing parallels between Annie’s life and mine, yet with experience comfortable that I’d grown.
Most of the story threads are character-driven, but it’s not a coming-of-age story. It is a story of growing, learning, and self-actualization. It’s something a girl may want to read and re-read as she ages.
by Sharon Creech
Paperback edition published by HarperTrophy, October 1, 2005ISBN: 0060540249