Book Review: A Matter of Heart

Amy Dominy's young adult novel takes readers into the heart of competition.

A Matter of Heart book cover
Random House Children's Books

What would you do if you found out that pursuing your dream could actually kill you? That's the question facing 16-year-old Abby Lipman in Amy Fellner Dominy's novel for teens, A Matter of Heart (Delacorte Press, May 2015). Abby is a competitive swimmer who is just weeks away from an Olympic-team qualifying meet when she is diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a potentially serious heart condition.

It means boosting her heart rate high enough to swim fast—fast enough to make the Olympic team—could be fatal.

A Matter of Heart is Abby's first-person account of how the diagnosis turns her life upside down. It immediately affects her relationships with her parents, coach, best friend, boyfriend, and teammates. Truthfully, Abby is very lucky that her condition is discovered in time to treat it (through medication and avoiding vigorous exercise). But she doesn't feel lucky at all. She feels most at home and alive when she's in the water, swimming fast and winning races. She says:

I'm a decent student and if I worked at it, I could be slightly better than decent at drawing. I like messing around in the kitchen if chocolate chips are involved ... maybe those are the things that make me normal, but they're not what makes me special. In the pool is where I become me. I'm fearless in the pool. I'm strong. It's the only place I am.

At its heart (pun intended!), this is a story about risk. How much is Abby willing to gamble in order to keep swimming? She nearly destroys her friendships, her reputation with her parents and coach, and her own health trying to find out.

Every teen confronts risk, which will help this story resonate with readers who aren't athletes.

But those who are will relate to both Abby's competitive fire and the pressure she feels to please her parents (especially her father, a former swimmer himself) and coach.

Is It Right for Your Teen?

The book's publisher recommends it for ages 12 and up. There is some frank talk about Abby's attraction to her boyfriend (as well as another male teammate) and what she'll do to show it, especially when she feels she has nothing to lose. Abby also drinks beer at a party. For me, these are just part of what make the book feel real, and make it a great jumping-off point for important conversations with your child.

Do these teachable moments make the book a tough sell for teen readers? I don't think so. Although there are no zombies, vampires, or magical orphans in sight, the book captures Abby's feelings and actions so skillfully that kids will be drawn in to her story and eager to read more.

A portion of book sales will be donated to the Anthony Bates Foundation, an organization that brings heart screening events to tweens, teens, and young adults around the U.S.

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