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My Beating Teenage Heart

by C.K. Kelly Martin

In her latest teen novel, C.K. Kelly Martin once again showcases her talent for putting the emphasis on character-driven narrative. Alternating between the voices of Ashlyn Baptiste and Breckon Cody, Martin lets the characters tell their story, meting out details that explain what has drawn the two teenagers together.

When Ashlyn finds herself rising from a place of darkness into the light as though coming to after a fainting spell, she doesn’t immediately realize that she has died. Her point of view from beyond the grave is reminiscent of Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones, but instead of watching over her family consumed in mourning, all she can see is Breckon.

Breckon, meanwhile, is grieving the accidental death of his little sister. At first, Ashlyn and Breckon seem to have nothing in common, but then we learn Ashlyn’s last living memory is of Breckon helping her as she goes into cardiac arrest.

While Ashlyn reflects on her short life, she watches as Breckon makes a mess out of his. Wracked with guilt, he begins cutting himself, isolates himself from his family and his girlfriend, gets into drugs, and contemplates suicide. In the midst of this, Ashlyn wonders why she gets to see Breckon and his family, but never her own. The book’s feel-good conclusion answers this question and further integrates the two storylines.

What works best in the novel is Martin’s depiction of grief and how the teens internalize it. But Martin holds back on plot details for too long, sapping the story of tension and suspense. Still, the character development is detailed and interesting, and Martin works in lots of angsty situations that will likely keep the target audience reading until the end.