REVIEW: “Beating Heart” by A. M. Jenkins

Beating Heart

A. M. Jenkins
HarperTeen 2005

CHALLENGE(S): 2010 Challenge

Finished 28 Feb 2010

I picked up this book from a library display because it looked deliciously creepy. I love that cover, and I love ghost stories, particularly romantic ones.  From the blurb, it looked like this would be right up my alley:

She is a ghost: a figure glimpsed from the corner of your eye, a momentary chill, and a memory of secret kisses and hidden passion. He is 17 years old: Evan Calhoun, warm and alive, and ever since moving to this big abandoned house, he has dreamt of her. Ghost and boy fascinate each other–until her memories and his desire collide in a moment that changes them both.

Combining verse fragments with chiseled prose, A. M. Jenkins captures the compelling voice of a long–dead ghost and the perspective of a modern teen, twining mystery and romance in this evocative, sensual, and unrelentingly engrossing novel.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

In the first place, this is not about a ghost-human romance. He doesn’t even realize there is a ghost, he’s just fascinated by (a) the hot dreams he’s been having about her and (b) old news stories/photographs about her death. There’s pretty much no interaction beyond that.

Secondly, the poetry was, um…unique, and it did to some extent give the sense of a disconnected, ethereal narrator, but to be honest it came across as rather pretentious as well. I don’t mind small verses at the beginning of chapters and such, but in general I find verse to be rather off-putting in novels. It also made it feel rather insubstantial – I read the whole thing in an hour or two because there was a lot of wasted space so that the verses could be “formatted” in bizarre ways, so that sometimes there were only two to three words to a page. Minus points for wasting precious resources.

And finally, I was left feeling a little confused about the message of the book. Other reviewers seem to have felt bludgeoned by the anti-teen-sex message, while I felt the complete opposite; it seemed to me that the book treated sex and teenage relationships with respect and honesty. There never seemed to be any judgement about whether or not they should be physically intimate at that age (I think the protagonist was about seventeen). However, I can see how you might come to the opposite conclusion; the ghost girl dies because her illicit boyfriend smothers her accidentally while trying to keep her quiet and avoid discovery. A similar scenario is almost enacted by the modern protagonist and his girlfriend as well.

In all honesty, this seems very implausible to me and smacks of being contrived to fit the author’s agenda. I can only wonder why I didn’t spot it when I was reading the book. I guess I was simply not looking for it (and I got distracted by the irritating poetry). However, I’m not entirely sure whether I’m meant to get the idea that “all premarital sex is bad!” or “relationships based solely on sex end badly.” Hence the confusion.

It wasn’t altogether bad; the characters felt authentic, if unsympathetic, and as I said, I felt the treatment of teenage sexuality was refreshingly direct. A quick read, but an intellectual lightweight. Two stars from me.


  1. March 6th, 2010

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