A Heart in a Body in the World

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
A Heart in a Body in the World Book Poster Image
Emotional story of girl's journey after tragedy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Insight into PTSD and anxiety; what it takes to do a cross-country run; long-term effects of certain kinds of social messaging and expectations on girls; many facts on the heart; many Italian phrases; how therapy works and its benefits; U.S. geography from Seattle to Washington D.C.; and Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expeditions.

Positive Messages

Annabelle's journey shows the value of perseverance. Other messages: the importance of not shutting yourself off from those around you; having friends and family in your court is invaluable; it's OK to ask for help when you're going through tough times; be as kind and generous to yourself as you would be to a friend; don't let others steal your joy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Annabelle has been through a terrible time, but she's working through it. She is a smart, funny, kind, strong main character. Her grandfather is sweet, caring, tough when necessary. While Annabelle's mom is an overly emotional worrier, her love and concern for Annabelle is never in doubt. Malcolm is a wonderful little brother to Annabelle. Her friends are supportive and rally around her, even while dealing with their own grief.

Violence

Annabelle deals with PTSD and sees dangerous situations everywhere. She sustains some injuries during her cross-country run. Two violent deaths with graphic description of victims.

Sex

A few scenes of kissing, making out. Dating figures into the plot, including a boy's crush turning into an obsession. A teen boy gets an erection while slow dancing with a girl. Discussion of how confusing sexuality is for teen girls and the many beauty and behavioral expectations society places on them.

Language

Some swearing, but not frequent, including "Jesus," "God," "hell," "ass," "f--k" and variations, "a--hole," "s--t," "butthead," "damn," "d--k," and "douche."

Consumerism

Author frequently uses brand names instead of the generic term for things, including Coke, Pepsi, Pop-Tarts, Hi-C, Red Bull, Maybelline, 7-Eleven, Listerine, Costco, Nordstrom, Gatorade, USA Today, Minecraft, iPod, Best Western, Honda Civic, Moleskine, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Porsche, Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes, Amazon, Toyota, Red Vines, Twizzlers, Skype, PowerBar, Clif Shot Blok, Cytomax Energy Drops, and KFC.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Annabelle's grandpa drinks wine a few times and gives her a glass once to help her sleep. A few references to smelling pot on other kids. Annabelle recalls having a beer on a few occasions.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti (The Last Forever and Honey, Baby, Sweetheart) is about a teen girl who's recovering from a personal tragedy and decides to run across the country as a way to work through her trauma. Throughout her grueling journey, she recalls bit by bit the events leading up to the tragedy and eventually the incident itself. The story tackles several important issues, including behavioral expectations placed on young women, red flags in relationships, violence by young men, and the long-term effects of PTSD. There's a graphic scene of violence told in flashback, plus some alcohol consumption. Swearing is infrequent, as is kissing and making out.

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What's the story?

In A HEART IN A BODY IN THE WORLD, the reader meets Annabelle as she's having a panic attack at a fast-food restaurant. Her solution is to start running east, resulting in a cross-country run from Seattle to Washington, D.C. As the story unfolds, we learn that a horrific tragedy lurks in her past, and she understandably is not dealing well with her guilt, anger, and deep grief. What exactly happened to her and her group of friends is kept a mystery throughout most of the book, unfolding in pieces as she runs, thinks, and confronts more of the memories that haunt her. Even though Annabelle starts her cross-country journey with no specific plan, her family and friends quickly rally around her, getting transportation, shelter, food, supplies, and eventually a PR strategy in place. As she challenges herself physically and mentally, she makes new bonds with the people she meets on her run and strengthens the bonds with those closest to her. Annabelle goes from running away from the tragedy to doing something about it and connecting with other survivors.

Is it any good?

This beautifully written story of a teen girl who decides to run across the country after a tragedy is an emotional look at teen violence, gender roles, and post-traumatic stress. Throughout A Heart in a Body in the World, author Deb Caletti manages a deft balancing act between Annabelle's pain and the uplifting trajectory of her physical and mental journey. The story is slow at the start and might be hard for some readers to get invested in right away, but it is worth sticking it out, as Annabelle's journey is thoroughly engaging. The supporting characters are wonderful and add a lot of humor and love to the story, which can be all too rare in YA. It takes quite a long time for the mysterious traumatic incident to be revealed, probably a little too long, and many of the metaphors are heavy handed (grizzlies lurking in the woods, a dark scary tunnel, a rickety bridge she needs to cross). Caletti doesn't start dropping concrete hints about what happened until well past the halfway point of the book. On the plus side, drawing it out is a way to bring the reader along with Annabelle as she forces herself to confront her memories, guilt, and anger. Trauma victims have a long road of recovery ahead of them, and this book makes that clear and heartfelt.

The run across the country isn't all terrible, though. Annabelle gathers an encouraging community of supporters as she goes, and she bonds with her hilarious and charming grandfather, who's following her and putting her up in his RV. Many complex issues are well articulated in the story, letting the reader feel deeply for Annabelle's struggles and cheer her triumphs.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way obsessive love is portrayed in A Heart in a Body in the World and other books and movies. Some stories romanticize the idea of a male trying hard to "make" a woman love him. When does this behavior cross the line into creepy, obsessive, stalker behavior? Can something that might look romantic in a story be scary in reality?

  • Have you ever been made aware of an issue -- such as violence against women or a disease -- through an awareness campaign, like a run or bike ride? Has it ever made you more interested in an issue? Do you think those types of publicity campaigns are effective?

  • Do you have any activities you can lose yourself in when going through a tough time? How does it help you?

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