Jonny isn’t like ‘normal’ teenagers.
EVERY DAY he wakes up in hospital kept alive by machine. EVERY DAY he wonders if this is the day they’ll find a donor match for his heart. EVERY DAY he wonders if this is the day he’ll die.
EVERY DAY Niamh fights with her “PERFECT” brother Leo. EVERY SINGLE DAY Leo wins. EVERY DAY Niamh dreams of a life without Leo. But ALL that changes on the day of the accident the day EVERYTHING falls apart. This is a story about facing the future no matter how frightening. This is a story about healing your heart, no matter how much it hurts.
Jonny has been in hospital for longer than he cares to remember, living in the shadow of a heart condition. His hopes for finding a donor for a heart transplant diminish as each day passes, only just kept alive by his fellow hospital friend Em, and his adoring parents. Jonny dreams of living a ‘normal’ teenage life, whatever that might be. In contrast, Niamh is desperate to escape her ‘normal’ life, living in the shadow of her twin brother to whom she has always felt inferior. Playing the role of the black sheep teenager of the family is destructive, but somehow Niamh can’t help herself. And then a terrible accident changes the course of both Niamh and Jonny’s lives forever, taking them down a path of grief, friendship and love. With a new heart Jonny can now lead the life he has always dreamt of. Without her brother’s constant presence in her life, Niamh can truly be her own person. But it soon becomes clear that even when you get what you want, you still have a long way to go before you can be truly happy.
Instructions for a Second Hand Heart is not your average YA romance story. Jonny and Niamh present as two very different characters each facing huge change and difficulties in their lives. What makes this story unique and emotionally challenging is how they are brought together and it is well worth reading even if you aren’t a ‘romance’ fan. Jonny cannot stop thinking about the person who saved his life and Niamh cannot stop thinking about her brother. If it wasn’t for both of them, would Leo still be alive? The narrative weaves a clever plot in which Jonny discovers more and more about his donor and Niamh discovers that perhaps her life was not as bad as she thought. The harsh reality of this being neither one of them can change the situation they are in; they have to decide how to face it.
Told alternately from Jonny and Niamh’s points of view, the story is easy to follow and keeps you hooked from the first page. You feel great empathy for both characters as well as the wider cast featuring their family, friends and the medical staff. With a focus on long-term illness, the importance of organ-donation is also high-lighted. The story explores the anguish of families facing extreme illness, loss, grief and how you manage to keep going even when all seems lost. It reflects the heartache of first time love, true friendship and how teenagers deal with the many and varied situations they face. The author brilliantly shows the reality of the both Niamh’s and Jonny’s situations and how they are not only dealing with their own emotion and heartbreak; they also have to cope with their parents’ frustration and suffering.
Be warned: Instructions for a Second Hand Heart is not for the faint-hearted! I loved this story and you’ll need a box of tissues and a day to recover from the emotional rollercoaster, but it’s worth it.
With thanks to Tamsyn Murray for sending me this book via a Twitter giveaway!