Ellen is very close to her brother, Link, and his best friend, James. When she begins to question the nature of Link and James’ relationship, however, the delicate balance of friendship, love, and family ties unravels.
I’m actually not sure what to say about this book. I really enjoyed it. I could empathize with each character in the way they dealt with Link’s uncertain sexuality (or didn’t deal with it). There were a lot of good messages about identity and what makes a person gay as opposed to straight or bisexual, and how each person has a different criteria for what they believe makes up homosexuality. For some, the acts themselves make a person gay. For others, the temptation. For others, an entirely different idea altogether.
The book was published in 2002, when it was even harder than today for a teenager to come out to his/her family. Each year that passes, as society becomes less and less homophobic and laws are created to protect the gay community and hopefully one day give them equal rights, it becomes easier for people to accept themselves for who they are. The book is written about a very transitional period. Ellen doesn’t care at all if her brother’s gay, but she doesn’t really understand it, either. Mom only wants Link to be happy with himself. Dad is willing to bribe Link to act straight, afraid that Link will be shunned or marginalized all his life if he “decides” to be gay. Link himself avoids the question at any cost, but also rebels against his father’s attitude. The whole thing is a big, messy pot with a bunch of elements stirred in, none of which are resolved. Not completely, anyway.
Rather than focusing on Link and his problems, however, My Heartbeat chooses to focus more on Ellen. She is the character that brings the question of Link’s sexuality into the open. She talks with her mom, and later admonishes her dad for his ignorance and homophobia. She’s hurt when she loses her close friendship with Link because of her curiosity, but has no idea how to patch things up between them. She’s less dealing with the idea of her brother coming out and more with being shut out because he doesn’t want to deal with the issue at all. Beyond that, she’s never known anyone gay, and has no idea what defines homosexuality. She’s young – 15 – and the normal adolescent complications of life apply less for her, as these more pressing issues come up. And then to top it all off, she’s always been in love with James, and has to figure out if their growing-closer relationship has more to do with Link than with each other.
See? It’s a very difficult book to discuss. There isn’t a point A to point B plot thread, but more of a sifting of emotions. It’s a short glimpse into the life of one family, a portrait frozen in time. Definitely well worth reading, and it deserves its Printz Honor.