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Friday, 20 January 2017

Review: Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart by Tamsyn Murray

I originally read Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart back in the autumn, and was completely bowled over by it. It was one of those books I struggled to sit down and write a review about straight away because, frankly, it had my emotions exposed and raw... and I just wanted to savour it for myself for a little while. So this week I decided on that rare, beautiful moment a book-blogger can usually only dream of... re-reading a favourite. That's right, I sat down and devoured the story again. And this time I'm ready to tell you about it.

Teenaged Jonny has been waiting for a suitable heart for a transplant for what feels like for ever- and now, it seems as if time is going to run out for him. His world in the hospital is as familiar to him as his home-life- and the other patients count as his best friends- especially Em. But just because they've been in and out (or in ... and in... and in...) hospital for so long, it doesn't take away from their delicious 'teen-ness'.

Niamh is trying to come to terms with losing her twin brother. Her feelings are completely confused- grief, mixed with guilt, mixed with a kind of numbness. When Jonny gets in touch and the pair are drawn together through the weirdest of circumstances, it seems that he may be the only person who can help her begin to heal- and in turn, heal him.

What drew me into the story- both times- and makes this book so memorable is the un-sentimental viewpoint and voices of the teen protagonists. This lack of sugar-coating heightens the emotional impact of the novel. Murray writes with feeling, depth and warmth- providing much-needed awareness of serious issues- organ donation, childhood death and grief.

I've seen this novel described as a 'tear-jerker'. Yes and no. No: because, to me, that describes a weepy- the kind of book or film that purposefully sets out to draw out the tears. This book is all about Jonny, Niamh and Em's story. It's not there to provide the reader with some kind of catharsis. Yes: because the story is full of real, raw emotion and characters that you end up caring a great deal for. It didn't reduce me to a sobbing wreck (thank goodness). I actually think its impact went a lot deeper than that.

You could draw comparisons... YA fans of John Green's The Fault In Our Stars should definitely read this... and contemporary fiction fans of Jojo Moyes' Me Before You should also grab a copy asap. But all that said, Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart stands out all on its own. It doesn't really need comparison- this is powerful YA at its best.

Paperback:                     Kindle:

The Blurb:

Jonny has a faulty heart and his time is running out. Niamh has just lost her twin brother in a tragic accident. As their fates collide, soon Jonny is on the mend - but desperate to know more about his donor. When he tracks down Niamh, he only intends to find out about her brother, the first owner of his heart. He doesn't plan on falling in love... A stunning, tear-jerking novel about grief, guilt, and the unpredictability of love.

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