Book Review: Things We Know by Heart

bookreview by pedrojperezDescription per Goodreads: When Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.

After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.

Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn’t want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they’re connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake


I picked up this novel primarily because its plot reminded me of the movie Return to Me (2000), starring Minnie Driver and David Duchovny. And while I enjoyed the book, I really think it should’ve taken a few hints from the movie about how to make a love story involving heart transplant and organ donation work. Still, it was a moving story, and I thought it really handled the grieving process very nicely, showing how one has to let go of someone you loved before there’s room in your heart for anyone else (albeit it felt a little fast—just one year afterwards? I could get two or even three, but I understood that there were time constraints, since this was Young Adult fiction and the protagonist had to be old enough to really love him when she lost him, but still young enough to be a YA fiction protagonist for this story, too.).

Here’s a look at five categories of the novel: Narration, Content, Characters, Artwork, and World-Building, and Overall Response. (Beware: there will be plot spoilers in this review, but I won’t reveal the ending, i.e., whether the couple ends up together or not.)

  • Narration: 3 out of 5. The narration was adequate. There were moments when it worked well and times when it felt unoriginal, especially when the protagonist, Quinn, and her friend, Colton, interact physically (a lot of “sparks” and “heat” and “pinpricks” and such; but then, romantic interactions aren’t easy to write, especially in the YA limitations. You generally want to have some details, but keep things vague at the same time, to keep your book from being slammed as overly erotic.). It got the job done of telling the story, but it wasn’t amazing.

The dialogue was the best part; very believable, and it made the characters real. Colton’s was especially good, I thought, which made me root for him all the more (especially since Trent, Quinn’s former boyfriend, isn’t even in the book).

  • Content: 2 out of 5. There is a scene where Quinn and Colton definitely make out, but it doesn’t go into tremendous detail, so they may or may not have had sex. There isn’t a lot of action or adventure, and I really felt like the pacing failed after Quinn met Colton. (This is where the book could’ve taken pointers from Return to Me.)

When she meets Colton, she’s going there, just to see him, and she isn’t supposed to meet him at all, because he requested no contact from the organ donor’s family (which, by extension, would include the donor’s girlfriend), but she feels she needs closure, so she goes. The meeting doesn’t go as planned—she just wanted to see him and hear his voice, nothing more—and she ends up bumping into another car and needing stitches, and he volunteers to take her to the hospital. After that, she tries to back out of the budding relationship, but it’s clear he badly wants to know her better, and there is lovely tension.

But then it keeps going. They keep becoming friends, and she doesn’t tell him who she is, even though there are plenty of opportunities. They are constantly together alone, but she keeps putting it off.

In Return to Me, she didn’t know that his wife was the donor of her heart, and she is hesitant to talk about her heart transplant because it makes people think she’s weak or fragile, so she puts it off, and the main characters don’t piece together the puzzle until the end. Making one character know, right from the start, meant that there should have been more reasons for her not to tell him—like they were on an adventure, or always with other people, and she could never find the right moment. In Things We Know by Heart, they constantly go out on dates and are increasingly becoming more and more to each other, and there simply is no reason for her not to tell him, besides fear and self-protection, so it seemed rather cowardly.

  • Characters: 4 out 5. I felt the characters were uneven. Colton was really well-drawn, but Quinn was frustrating. I couldn’t believe that someone who knew what she’d done was wrong would go so long, and get so deep, without telling Colton the truth, when only herself and her courage stood in the way. Her sister was good, and I really liked her grandmother and her parents. They gave Quinn good foils to work off, but I felt like Quinn, by herself, was weak and unsympathetic.
  • Artwork: Subjective. The cover was well done. I really liked how the hearts morphed across the page, from biological drawings to the scribbly kind you might put on a hand-drawn card. There were some lovely, educational quotes about the heart at the beginning of each chapter, which added to the whole organ donor story (if the book was trying to encourage people to become organ donors, it does a great job, naturally exploring the wonderful ways organ donors help other people after they’re gone).
  • World Building: 4 out 5. As far as I could tell, the world was our world. At first, I thought we were on the east coast, but as I got further into it, I realized we were in California. There was a decent amount of information about where Quinn and Colton go, and the details increase when we’re somewhere interesting—like the cave Colton takes Quinn to on her first kayaking lesson—but everything is filtered through Quinn, and she seems fixated on herself, on what she’ll lose, what she’s seeing, and feeling, and all the rest, to the exclusion of details that we, her audience, would want to know or that she would want to remember or would notice in that moment. It’s almost like the fog of grief has never really lifted from her, and she can’t take in too many details yet. She’s still numb. If this was the intention, it was well done, but I’m not sure that was the goal, because I didn’t feel like the details increased as Quinn came back to life and the land of the living. If anything, there were more concrete details at the beginning of the book than at the end, more sensory information and in-the-moment-ness. But the world felt very consistent, and we are dealing with a teenager, so as hormones and emotions kick in, I suppose it makes sense that the other information gets drowned out.
  • Overall Response: 13 out of 20, for a total of 3.25. I really liked the story Jessi Kirby had to tell—about loss and love and how the past relates to our future—but I felt like it could’ve been more compelling. Still, it was an enjoyable, interesting read, and I kept turning pages, just waiting for Quinn to finally tell Colton so I could see how he’d react. I honest felt like he deserved someone better than her, but both of them have scars that need healing, and they could make a good couple (and you’ll have to read it to find out whether they end up together or not).  🙂
Copyright 2015 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by pedrojperez, Creative Commons

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