CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 34. . . .May 2, 2014
A Hole in My Heart is a novel with some heavy and challenging content. The heroine, Nora, is a junior high school student who recently lost her mother to leukemia. The story picks up after the mother’s death at the point where Nora’s father has relocated the family to Vancouver where he is upgrading his training to become a surgeon. Nora’s older sisters are in nursing school. This move from Penticton has added to Nora’s trauma as she has trouble making friends at her new school. Her father is too preoccupied with his own grief and his studies to provide the support Nora needs. Nora’s sisters are also distant due to an age gap.
Despite the intense sadness, there are some sources of support for Nora. She exchanges letters with her cousin Lizzie who has a congenital heart defect and is waiting to come to Vancouver for a new type of surgery. These letters help both Nora and Lizzie work through some of their respective issues. Another source of support is the Quinn family for whom Nora works as a babysitter. Mrs. Quinn lost a child to polio and is able to understand some of what Nora is going through.
Worked into this already emotional novel is a side story involving a neighboring child who is the victim of incest. This component is not well developed and, as the novel is set in 1960, the issue is framed in nobody-talks-about-incest manner that was typical of the time. Nora mentions the problem to a neighbour who convinces the father to go away and not come back. There is no suggestion of notifying authorities. The book would have benefitted from including an author’s note clarifying the difference between the resources available for handling sexual abuse in 1960 versus 2014 to ensure that younger readers do not get the wrong message. This is especially critical given the publisher’s age recommendation of 9 years plus. Librarians, teachers and parents may have reservations about suggesting this book to younger readers without discussing this important point.
One intriguing element of the novel is found in the details of life in 1960 that the author has worked hard to include. The reader is taken through the fashions of the time, changing attitudes to talking about things like pregnancy, advances in surgery and new technologies such a televisions. The story, other than the reservations already mentioned, is well-written. It is told in first person by Nora, with Lizzie adding her perspective through the letters. Nora also writes messages on her bedroom chalkboard, messages which are shared with readers through highlighted blocked phrases throughout the book. Nora is occasionally too reflective for her age, but given the challenges she faces, perhaps this is not too surprising.
A Hole in my Heart would be well-suited for ages 11 to 12. The female lead characters and inclusion of topics such as having your first period make it most appealing to girls.
Recommended with Reservations.
Sophia Hunter is a teacher-librarian at Crofton House Junior School in Vancouver, BC.
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