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‘The Anatomical Shape of a Heart’ Shatters YA Stereotypes

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So there’s this girl, Beatrix Adams. She’s an aspiring medical cadaver illustrator basking in the summer before her senior year of high school  while plugging away at a scientific arts contest for a scholarship. She falls in a love with a charming graffiti artist named Jack Vincent. Along the way, they encounter love from family, their passion for art, and each other.  The pair express deep passion for their respective arts and stay close to their families. It was a pleasant and heart-warming read.

But that’s no type of review. So let’s get detailed: When I first picked up the “The Anatomical Shape of a Heart” by author Jenn Bennett, I’d fallen in love with its quirky premise. A young artist in love with drawing cadavers meets a young, Buddhist graffiti artist, and love blossoms like a rose between them. I’ve always wondered who’d drawn the medical diagrams in my biology books and apparently, it’s people like Beatrix Adams.

Graffiti was something I’d seen all over Atlanta. That kind of beautiful artistry strewn recklessly across private and public property — that’s a pretty bold thing to do. Especially since defamation of property can yield community service, a hefty fine or some serious jail time. So I admire Jack Vincent’s boldness.

I also admire how goal-oriented Beatrix Adams is. She doesn’t lose sight of the things she wants most over a boy, unlike a lot of YA novels. She’s very self-possessed. There’s none of the usual teenage confusion and insecurity that peppers a lot of YA efforts. She’s knows what she wants and goes for it, even as her attraction to Jack Vincent grows stronger with every chapter.

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Jack himself unravels more and more as the novel progresses. He begins as a mysterious yet handsome teenager who meets Beatrix at a bus stop in front of a hospital — a bus route formerly known as the Owl.

And then his character expands. Suddenly he’s Buddhist. And the son of a wealthy mayor. With a previously disowned sister, who’s dealing with mental illness. Never mind that Beatrix’s older brother Heath is sort of a problem child and Beatrix’s mother Katherine is a divorced nurse. The elements in Jack’s life make him who he is. Similarly, the elements in Beatrix’s life make up who she is. They’re opposing forces in a way: Beatrix’s seriousness and Jack’s witty idealism. But instead of clashing, they come together beautifully.

An interesting thing this novel does is break YA stereotypes. Both musicians are artists, for one, without the typical “tortured artist” cliche. They both try to do right by their families even as things get complicated. Beatrix is a confident, no-nonsense type of girl without being overly feisty and overwhelming. Her dreams and aspirations are more original than most YA novel heroines.

The novel is pretty open about sex and even has a non-graphic sex scene. In other YA novels, the YA female protagonist is usually a slightly unsure misfit, grasping tightly to her maidenhood. But Beatrix is not a virgin and she knows exactly what she wants and is very practical about achieving it, even if it gets her into trouble.

The book’s more negative points don’t outweigh the higher points of the novel, but they do still stand out. For instance, Jack — while charming and endearing — strikes me as a guy who’s a little too good to be true. Yes, he still feels like a regular person with triumphs and flaws and such, but his character also comes off as a literal dreamboat. He’s a guy who’s hard to imagine meeting but worth imagining. He’s an interesting sort of guy and balances Beatrix beautifully.

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Their dialogue, while witty and and as honest as teenagers can be, comes off as pretentious at times. Jack’s various quips start out as charming, but end up tired. He’s still funny and has real-life issues to deal with, but sometimes those quips distract from the problem at hand.

And finally, the novel itself. While light-hearted, refreshing and romantic, it moved very slowly in some sections. I was bored. I understand their love must blossom and grow, but throughout I felt as though the stakes weren’t high enough. I didn’t get that sense of suspense and frantic energy that the novel originally promises. The author could’ve had Jack on the run to cover his identity as a notorious graffiti artist. It’s a significant part of his character, and he could’ve easily gotten busted if police had discovered those careless yet romantic hints he left around the city. I suppose it’s an easy door out of romantic territory, given that I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but their relationship makes up for that.

Overall, this novel is about more than just Beatrix and Jack’s relationship with each other. It’s also about their relationships with their family and friends and what they want out of life. It highlights the power of love in many different ways. I liked the book. I didn’t fall head over heels for it, but it’s pretty good.

Check it out.

Catherine Boyd, 19, is terrible at math, so she writes book reviews instead.

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