Book Discussion Review: The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

Thursday, October 29, 2015
Title: The Anatomical Shape of a Heart
Author: Jenn Bennett
Genre: contemporary, YA
Series: N/A
Pages: 304
Published: expected Nov 3 2015
Source: publishers via NetGalley

Artist Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she's spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Leonardo da Vinci’s footsteps, she's ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital’s Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.

Jack is charming, wildly attractive . . . and possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is—and tries to uncover what he’s hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in Beatrix’s own family’s closet tear them apart?

I'm hosting a discussion  of The Anatomical Shape of a Heart with 
So this review is going to be a bit different. I don’t think that you and I have ever disagreed so noticeably about a readalong novel before The Anatomical Shape of a Heart or TASoaH as it will be henceforth be referenced because daaaaamn that is a long title.

I do like the title that they gave it for the American release. Night Owls seems so overdone, you know? And I did love the hell out of the cover. It was pretty cute.

And I very much agree - usually we are on the same page, but on this one, it is going to be so contrasting! Okay, so, what made this a Jessie book?

Not that I base all my ratings or reviews on this, but the ship. I loved the ship. I also liked Bex a lot -- I liked that she was imperfect, that she made mistakes (I did wish for a little more recognition of those issues, though) -- on her own, and Jack for his own merits. I liked that it wasn’t a typical YA love story. Bex isn’t bookish, or extraordinarily pretty, or an athlete or even that friendly. She likes drawing medical illustrations. She likes the dark, the macabre. She’s different, and memorable.

I also liked the way mental illness played into the central plot. It wasn’t handled perfectly (I know there’s at least one instance you’re going to touch on) but I loved the inclusion of that to the main storyline. I want to avoid spoilers but it was central to the novel and had a big impact on both characters.

I will say the romance was handled well. I thought that Jack and Bex fit well together. But Bex was a huge turn off for me. I wouldn’t have liked her if I had known her in real life. I can’t stand that she just had this air of superiority and it wore on my nerves. I wanted to read more about Jack’s family or her brother’s story - a gay death metal fanatic?? SO awesome! So much better than a girl with a chip on her shoulder who thought she was better than every person she came in contact with.

As for the mental illness, they should have spent more time on that. I wanted to see more “bad days” instead of all “good days”. At least they gave the patient something more than just her illness. I wanted to see more of THAT side of the story. Hell, this should have been told from Jack’s POV.

That is a fair point. Showcasing a wider range of mental illness and its effects would have been better and more honest. I also think you’re right that perhaps Jack had the better story here. Bex’s family issues are far more prevalent/seen and Jack’s is the more compelling. I also have to point out how sex-positive this book is. I loved that aspect. I love when a YA book isn’t afraid to go there, or be honest about how teens act and feel. TASoaH isn’t a perfect read, but it did a lot of things I liked: diversity, moderately healthy family lives, sex positivity, mental illness, etc. It may have missed the bullseye, but it’s on the target.

This book was sex-positive, which I would love to see more of today, so it shocked me when there were some other issues in the book. For example, Bex said that soldiers only suffer from PTSD, not every day people. And when she was meeting with a mentally ill person, she said they didn’t have “crazy eyes”. Also, I’m very pissed that the author wrote about “fake boobs” on a woman that was hated and then had the “competition girl” in the novel fall into the typical “bad girl” role. It was so conflicting, and I’m really torn up that this book had so much potential just for it to have a positive message and then such a negative emotion regarding sexuality. Also, I’m not thrilled about the graffiti. The “reasoning” was weak, and I still didn’t give Jack a pass on that. It is irresponsible, and someone has to clean that up. It was the conflict of the messages that caused me to rage and rate the book a low rating.

The PTSD comment was one I knew you would address because it also stuck out to me as so far off the mark. It’s incredibly inaccurate and harmful to victims to read things like that. It’s one of the main reasons I could not rate TASoaH higher. Maybe it won’t make it to the final version?

As for the other issues, I took those comments in the poor taste that Bex made them but saw them as example of her immaturity and need for growth. The Bex at the end of the novel is not the same one we met at the beginning; I remember her thinking about that “competition girl” in far more empathetic and understanding terms than she had previously. It wasn’t a perfect resolution, but life is imperfect and so are people. It was sadly realistic at first, with a natural and believable change at the end. I wasn’t the feminist at 17 that I am now, for example.

I wasn’t either. That is the issue I run into at times: when YA has characters that act immature. Because it is realistic. I really couldn’t see Bex changing for the better, but people do surprise you.

I was incredibly disappointed that the anatomy angle wasn’t discussed more. I also struggled with the fact that Bex couldn’t face a dead body when she wanted to be a medical artist. There is such a thing as learning as you go, but it seemed like an excuse to push it to the side to make more room for the romance. She just mentions the cadaver drawings in passing each night, but then we have pages upon pages of the romance. I wanted to see Bex slowly get accustomed to her meetings in the lab, and I would have loved more about the actual drawing or just the bonding, but it all fell to the wayside, and it just frustrated me.

Yes, this really was a YA romance novel more than anything else. I was surprised when the art blog was mentioned in passing a few times, or the award, but never a real focal point of Bex’s narration. I mean, I was there for the shippy feels so I am 100% not complaining, just surprised that’s the focus the novel took so heavily. I also now kinda want a book that just features Heath and Noah off doing random things?

I would read the HELL out of Noah and Heath! Bex was the most nonfascinating character in a sea of some freaking AWESOME people!! I wanted SO MUCH MORE of Noah! Like, that book would be 5 stars right off the shelf! This book was a smash up of some awesome stuff and some very-not-awesome stuff. You might have just convinced me to give it 2 stars instead of 1. Because Noah and Heath = <3.

I think anyone reading this can agree that yes Bex and Jack is a great ship but that Noah and Heath are OTP status.

Okay, I don’t feel SO angry towards this book any longer. Just strong annoyance. The ship was cute, but Jack could do better.

And you’ve made me reconsider a few of my easy passes for TASoaH. Yes, it’s good to see all kinds of diversity in lit, but accurate, honest portrayals of mental illness are paramount. They are necessary and a simplified, sanitized version isn’t cutting it. I went into this discussion with 4-stars in mind, but I don’t think TASoaH will keep all of them.

So, shall we call it? Final ratings?

I give it 2 stars.

I give it 3.

I’m thrilled that we were able to address some of the things and see the book through a new pair of eyes.

I will always love a good book discussion. People might not always agree on a novel or a character but it's so fascinating to see how someone else can interpret words and analyze them. It’s why the blogging community is so passionate, I think. Anyway.
Check out some of our other discussion reviews:

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