Second Hand Heart [Paperback]
By Catherine Ryan Hyde
Paperback: 420 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1463630778
ISBN-13: 978-1463630775

This novel, originally released in the UK and newly available in the states in ebook and paperback format, follows the story of Vida and Richard, two people on different sides of a heart transplant. Ms. Ryan Hyde drew from experiences with her own niece, who was born with a heart defect, and tells the journey of both people with a rare grace and sincerity. Both characters deliver their story in first person, journal-style, alternating their voices with each chapter.

A new tense should be invented for Ms. Ryan Hyde’s skillful rendition of journal-entry description and pacing. It gives the story a raw quality and a simplicity that strikes at the fundamental human experiences we all share, regardless of what is actually happening to the characters. The characters are richly present in our minds, and easy to connect with in our hearts. It’s difficult at first to keep with the journal-style, if one is used to ordinary first-person-past or first-person-present, but extremely worth it. You see the characters develop in a real-time fashion, and you arrive at their destination along with them. Their journey is messy sometimes, with dead ends and false hopes, but life is like that, isn’t it?

Above all, this book is an exquisite celebration of life, and what it means to live. Sharing the eyes of a girl who goes from knowing every day may be her last, to discovering the outside world and the possibility that there may be a tomorrow worth waking up to, is refreshing to some of us that may take the whole routine of getting up and going to sleep for granted. But it is never once condescending or pedantic. On the other side, is a celebration of letting go – the process of grief, of knowing you have to move on, yet such a thing is impossible – and what we do to try. That was a lovely counter-balance to the other story. Life seems to be full of opportunities and losses and things that don’t make sense, in good ways and bad. But we have one another–strangers, friends, family, godsends–to help navigate our way, and at the least we are alone but not really. Not in the way that breaks us, but in a way that gives us options.

Ms. Ryan Hyde carries a fundamental celebration of humanity, and everyday magic between people and in life, throughout all of her writings, and yet one could read all fourteen of her novels and her collection of short stories in a single marathon and each would still be extraordinary. She writes with an originality that never gets old.

I would highly recommend this story to anyone who has ever wondered about the magic of transplants, or ever had a crushing loss, or ever had a second chance at life but shared that opportunity with an invisible force that made it just slightly impossible to really take life on. In other words, I think everyone should read it. You’ll be glad you did.


Reviewed by Joanna Celeste (
January 2013

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