My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Description: When a young mother dies under mysterious circumstances, those she leaves behind begin looking for answers in the past—and find a long-buried secret they could have never imagined.Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time stepmom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be?
At thirteen, Ava Hansen is mature beyond her years. Since her parents’ divorce, she has been the one taking care of her emotionally unstable mother and her little brother—she pays the bills, does the laundry, and never complains because she loves her mama more than anyone. And while her father’s new girlfriend is nice enough, Ava still holds out hope that her parents will get back together and that they’ll be a family again.
But only days after Victor and Grace get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances—and soon, Grace and Ava discover there was much more to Kelli’s life than either ever knew.
Narrated by Grace and Ava in the present with flashbacks into Kelli’s troubled past, Heart Like Mine is a poignant and hopeful portrait about womanhood, love, and the challenges of family life.
My thoughts:This is the second book I've read by this author and have been extremely pleased by her writing. I enjoyed the story, loved the way she got into the characters' heads, and the development of each character and the story. Hatvany writes about difficult situations and brings the complex questions to light without dismissing any of them with trite answers or shallow characterizations.
In this book, Grace is engaged to Victor, a divorced father of two children. His ex-wife is Kellie, a thin, beautiful, but clearly insecure woman who suddenly dies in her bed after getting the children off to school. Grace never planned on becoming a mother. She was secure with her relationship with Victor but always knew that Kellie would be the children's mother. The title comes from Grace's thoughts and insecurities of taking on the maternal role in her soon-to-be husband's children's life. Can she be a mother figure with a heart like hers?
Grace did not come easily to the decision to not have children. There is a history and a childhood that negated mothering for her in adulthood. She mothered her baby brother due to circumstances out of her control. She went to college, built a successful career doing work with battered women to restore their integrity and independence, and she's perfectly happy doing life with a career and a husband.
The questions are slowly hashed out. How did Kellie die? Why was Kellie so unhappy? What was her secret? Why was she without family? How will Grace handle having the children full time? How will the children handle their grief? What secrets are keeping Kellie captive even in her death? There are many more but these are the elements closest to my recall. The book is told in three voices; Grace, Kellie, and Ava, Kellie's and Victor's 14 year old daughter. I found the choice of voices to be very balancing as they would each of very different preconceptions.
It would have been easy to write Ava as a cliche teenager. Yes, there is a little bit of screaming, "You're not my mom!" but that is to be expected. Ava is surprisingly complex. She isn't always resentful of Grace and Grace's presence. She also realizes she has other feelings than grief and resentment for Grace. I found her character to be the most enlightening, actually. A teenage girl is very complex. Especially one teetering on the edge of so many brinks. It takes a lot of talent to tackle Ava and keep her cohesive yet deep.
Grace might have been an easy characterization, too. Suddenly, the life she planned with Victor is not what she hoped. She tackles the many stumbling blocks many mothers run into throughout their lives with the added element of the fact that she and Victor are not even married, yet. How does a woman step into a step parental role? Especially one who didn't plan on doing so? How does a mother balance and/or fit her career in a life with children? When and how do a couple find time and energy to connect? How does a parent (or fiance of a single parent) handle the splitting done by a child (using one against the other)? It is not as exhausting as it sounds. I mean the book. Not real life. The author does an excellent job of representing this aspect.
Last we have Kellie. She is a complete mystery in the beginning. There is a question of possible suicide which is eventually resolved. Again, Kellie's character could have been easily written by sticking to previous scripts written about ex-wives who undermine their ex-husband's lives. This is not the case. Kellie is the most complex of all; growing up in a religious home with older parents who are unforgiving, sinning and being estranged, compensating and reinventing herself. Kellie creates a home for her children that, to their detriment or growth, is representative of what she craved as a child from her parents.
Hatvany remains one of my favorite authors.
*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.