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Spotlight on: Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

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Heartbeat by Sharon Creech Sharon Creech, Heartbeat

Thump-thump, thump-thump. Twelve-year-old Annie makes that sound when she runs barefoot through the grass. Annie finds the rhythm of running very soothing at a time when several things in her world are changing dramatically. Her mother is pregnant (with an “alien baby”). Her grandfather (a championship runner in his youth) is losing his memory. And her running partner, Max, is moodier than ever, increasingly focused on the competitive aspects of running instead of just doing it for the fun of it. Annie doesn’t know what to do about all this ... so she runs, and she focuses on her own rhythm so she can block out all the problems around her.

Heartbeat is full of rhythm. Author Sharon Creech (a Newbery Medal winner for Walk Two Moons) has written her book in free verse, which is a kind of poetry that does not rhyme. This style choice allows her to carefully place the words so that we read them on the page the same way she wants us to hear them in our minds. This highlights the rhythms in the story -- from running feet to a baby’s heart, from the flipping of photo album pages to the drawing of one hundred pictures of apples.

Creech, the author of several other novels and picture books, plays with her words, not only with their rhythms, but also with their multiple uses and meanings. Footnotes, forbidden words, and synonyms play a supporting role in this story that starts out negative, but grows more positive as the pages turn. Annie even gets to attend the birth of her new baby brother, who she thinks maybe isn’t quite so “alien” after all.

Readers tired of the same old thing should definitely give Heartbeat a try. Creech has filled this relatively short novel (you will be amazed at how little time it takes to read) with suspense, drama, humor, and a whole lot of love. It also has that rarest of qualities: an utterly perfect ending that ties everything together and imbues the story with a meaning that equals more than just its words. Annie’s story is one that readers will want to revisit many times.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form in The Gardner News. Copyright 2005.

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