Tin Heart is a contemporary novel that follows 17-year-old Marlow Jensen who, suffering from a congenital heart condition, had come to accept the fact that she was going to die…and soon. But that all changes one day when she receives the call that a heart from a 17-year-old boy has become available for transplant.
The transplant is a success, and our story opens one year after the operation during which Marlow is trying to figure out who she is and how she fits into her world. After both she and her peers had thought of herself for so long as “sick girl” or “dying girl,” she’s now at a loss to figure out who she really is.
In her search for meaning, she’s resolved to discover who her anonymous heart donor is, hoping to contact the family in order to express her gratitude. Though transplant recipients are forbidden to contact donor families, Marlow pursues forward with some interesting — and sometimes cringe-worthy — results.
In addition to the intrigue surrounding Marlow’s heart transplant and her search for the donor family, we also delve into Marlow’s unique family. Her mother is a passionate vegan activist who opened a vegan shop next to the neighborhood butcher and has taken up the personal mission of protesting in front of the butcher shop whenever possible. Naturally, this has created quite an enemy of the shop’s owner. She also expects her children to support her and adhere to the same high moral standards as herself. But when the rivalry between Marlow and the butcher’s son Leo (whom she has nicknamed “Butcher Boy) turns into romance, all sorts of humorous hijinks ensue.
Then there’s Marlow’s upbeat always-smiling crossing-dressing younger brother Pip who dresses up for school as though every day were Halloween. I laughed out loud many times at the descriptions of his outrageous and flamboyant costumes, and I found him to be one of the most interesting and likable characters of the book.
Overall, Tin Heart was a beautiful story about a sensitive subject that the author handled with grace. It was a potent story about grief, organ donation and second chances, as well as the importance of family. It was riveting to follow Marlow’s transition from being given a death sentence to that of a recovering survivor, and I loved seeing how she moved from victim mentality to that of a self-confident and resilient young adult — although she made a few morally questionable decisions along the way.
The topic of this novel was an intense one, especially as Marlowe struggled and finally came to terms with the fact that the only reason she is alive is because someone else had to die. Organ donation is one of those subjects that people rarely think about or talk about until disaster strikes, and I don’t recall ever having read a fiction novel where this particular subject matter played a central role. So in this way, the book encourages us to think about this important topic and perhaps even paves the way to discussion with friends and family.
Though the storyline was no doubt a serious one and pulled at the reader’s heartstrings in many places throughout the novel, the story was also sprinkled with plenty of humor, lighthearted banter and wit, rendering it an especially enjoyable and satisfying read.
All in all, Tin Heart is a well-crafted, stunning contemporary novel of many layers, with a huge heart and an important message and is the kind of book that will hit you right in the heart (pun intended). Recommended.
A huge thank you to Shivaun Plozza and Flatiron Books for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.