Instructions for a Secondhand Heart by Tamsyn Murray
Review by Kyra
Jonny is running out of hope. And time. Sitting in the hospital, hooked up to machines that keep him alive, and waiting for a heart. His name is on a long list of patients who are all waiting and hoping and wondering if they will ever get a heart transplant. Unfortunately for Jonny, his rare blood type requires a specific heart that he may never receive.
His chances are better than his friend Em. She is fighting a long battle with cancer, her body becoming weaker and weaker every time that she has to go through chemotherapy. Jonny and Em bond over endless hours trying to distract each other from the very real possibility that they will spend the remainder of their lives in the hospital. His only true escape is drawing, and his only hope is that one day he will fulfill the activities on his bucket list. His bucket list is a list of goals that he wants to achieve, and to anyone else, it would just seem like “normal life stuff.” But to Jonny, it's everything.
Through a long turn of events, a teenage boy named Leo passes away due to a tragic accident that leaves his family, especially his twin sister Neve, grieving. The family decided to donate his organs to help give life to someone else. That someone is Jonny. When Jonny finds out that a heart is ready for immediate transfer, a whirlwind of emotions floods his mind. He finds himself wondering who the heart once belonged to. Who’s life has to end in order for him to fully begin to live. The surgery is successful. Jonny, the boy hooked up to the machines, is now free. There is still recovery, and medications, and trauma. But for the most part, he is able to live a full life.
As time passes, he is unable to let go of the desire to find out who the boy was. Hours and hours of research fill his days as he uses the only information that he has to track down victims of accidents. Miraculously, he comes across a girl. A girl named Neve who lost her twin brother. At the right time. He was the right age. They were in the right place.
He starts to befriend her and they develop a strong bond. Neve is struggling to find her own identity after the passing of her overshadowing twin brother. He was the popular twin who got all of the attention. Part of her loathes him, part of her misses every silent moment that is absent of his presence. Jonny tries to find information about him through Neve, but as time passes, finds himself falling for her. She is different. She treats him differently. They spend time together and Jonny tries to forget his burdening secret that fills his empty thoughts. Her dead brother was keeping him alive. He doesn’t want to tell her but secrets always come up eventually.
They both start the long process of healing, both physically and emotionally, but like any healing process, the ups and downs are overwhelmingly large. Emotions, fears, pain, anxiety, guilt, and depression all play a huge part in both of their lives. Jonny must balance his relationships with his peers, as well as his growing attraction to Neve, while not abandoning Em, who is still fighting cancer in the hospital. Neve thinks that Jonny is leading her on, and she is furious. She finds out about his interest in tracking down her brother, and in her mind, he used her to find information. Neve thinks that the premise of their relationship was built on the wrong terms.
The end of this book was filled with sweet sadness, pain, and hope. It presents interesting topics about healing and hope and shows the process of recovery after any event that leaves you feeling outnumbered and hopeless.
I really enjoyed this book. The characters of Neve and Jonny are deeply flawed and realistic. There are sweet moments filled with humor and heart, but also deep and dark themes. It challenges the reader with questions including, “How would you handle the death of a twin?” “How would you take hold of your life and become the person that you dreamed of being?” “How would you handle a secret that will hurt the one you love, whether you tell them or not?” It also shows Neve’s struggle with finding her own identity that is distanced from her brother. A lot of growth and change happens and the ending wrapped it together into a well-written novel by Tamsyn Murray.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick read to fly through. Readers can read this as a lighthearted (no pun intended) read with witty banter and cute characters. But readers can also choose to look at this as a discovery of healing and a journey to take with Neve and Jonny. An important note is that this novel is told in first-person perspective from an alternating view of Neve and Jonny. This gives deep insight into their minds and also their view on the other characters. I love the first person perspective because it allows me, as a reader, to dive into their inner workings, their insecurities, their minds, and the soul of what makes them a good character. It is easy to see the stakes that are against the character, depression could take over so easily and so many issues could arise. I found myself rooting for them, smiling during their happiness and crying at the ending. Even though it's an easy read, it could hold so much more depth and meaning, if only you choose to look at it in that way.