Thursday, February 28, 2013

Guest Book Review: The Heart Whisperer

By Miriam Plotinsky

Adults tend to know that children, as a coping mechanism, find ways to explain the world that are far from accurate when they don’t understand what’s happened. However, people don’t always realize that children can carry these mistaken impressions into maturity if nobody bothers to correct them. Ella Griffin’s The Heart Whisperer shares the stories of siblings Claire and Nick, who have never recovered from their mother’s drowning accident twenty-seven years before. Full of emotion, tragedy, and occasional doses of humor, the book is a compelling tale that gradually reveals itself, bit by bit, as the mystery around a woman’s death comes to light.

Claire, once a successful actress, has all but given up on her career and settles on working as an extra to pay the bills. She spends most of her time with her best friend, Ray Devine, who shares Claire’s ambivalence for life. Years before, Ray’s band was famous, but he is now resigned to writing jingles and leads a life of general hedonism and debauchery. Together, their dysfunction is at its peak, but Claire decides on her thirty-third birthday that she can no longer go on living so carelessly. She gives herself a year to turn things around, but her biggest demon, namely her mother, keeps haunting Claire. Claire blames herself for her mother’s drowning even though she was only six when the incident occurred, and her child’s perspective also clouded her clarity surrounding the event.

In the meantime, her brother Nick is trying to escape his past. In the aftermath of his mother’s death and his father’s sudden withdrawal from life, Nick had to take care of Claire and became an adult very quickly. As a result, he is obsessed with getting far away from reminders of his childhood, including Claire. He marries the seemingly-perfect Kelly, an American who is both beautiful and ridiculously organized, and Nick himself is a couples coach with a burgeoning business. However, as much as Nick wants to sidestep his troubled history, he continues to stumble across obstacles that painfully remind him of just how hard his earlier years were.

With vulnerable and relatable characters, Griffin aptly draws us into the story, keeping the reader in suspense about what exactly occurred when Claire and Nick’s mother drowned until the plot has progressed significantly. Claire still has the appealing innocence of a child in many ways, which makes it easier to see her as the six year-old who watched her mother disappear into the water and never return. As for Nick, we feel his pain as he struggles with denying his roots and with the rejection of his physically present but mentally absent father.

Griffin demonstrates a truth that we all recognize: trauma incurred in childhood never fully repairs itself in adulthood. Children hold onto their hurts, and recovering from serious tragedy imposed upon them so early in life is a process that requires tremendous courage. The Heart Whisperer chronicles its characters as they learn to listen to the past and not shove it out of the way in an effort to manage deep wounds. It’s a gripping and realistic portrayal of raw human feeling.

Thanks to Orion for the book in exchange for an honest review. They're giving away some copies at Ella Griffin's interview. (Open worldwide!)

Miriam Plotinsky is an English and creative writing teacher. She lives in the DC/Metro area with her husband and three kids, who occasionally give her the time she needs to write and eat sushi.

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