July 25, 2012

Hummingbird Heart

by Robin Stevenson
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-554693900
ebook: 978-1-554693917
278 pp.
Ages 13-16
April, 2012

Reviewed from ebook

Fiction for younger readers seems to have found a favourite character in the selfish mother or at least mothers who, realizing that they can't have it all, choose in favour of themselves, not their children. Such is Dylan Jarvis' mom, although her mom still has the audacity to tell her that she's doing what's best for Dylan.

In Hummingbird Heart, sixteen-year-old Dylan may know how self-centered her mom, Amanda, is; after all, Mom doesn't seem to worry about constantly getting new tattoos or smoking pot or making out with her newest boyfriend at home.  In fact, Dylan wishes her mother was more predictable and acted more like a responsible grown-up.  But while Dylan may acknowledge how messed up her family is (there's Mom who got pregnant when she was 16 after a one-night stand, and Karma, her "sister", the eleven-year-old daughter of Amanda's deceased friend, Sheri) but she considers herself weird and boring, more like "Diluted Kool-Aid, maybe. Or skim milk" (pg. 35) compared to her champagne-like best friend, Toni.  Even though Toni's parents have divorced, Dylan looks upon Toni as having a more normal family, since she knows both her parents.  Dylan, who knows nothing of her father, struggles for a connection to him by having her mom send a birthday photograph of them to him each year.  Even though he has never replied, Dylan considers going to see him when Mark calls and wants to have dinner with them.

Meanwhile, Dylan is encouraged by Toni to be a bit more sociable and interested in guys; by crushing on new boy, Jax, Dylan feels a bit more normal like Toni, who has a boyfriend, Finn.  Perhaps because she knows so little about him and feels like a different (more normal?) person around him, Dylan takes Jax in as a confidante, sharing with him the news of her father and her feelings about her mother.  While she does question Jax's interest in her, Dylan enjoys the almost out-of-body experience of being with him, especially knowing that he isn't thinking only of himself, as Toni and her mother and even Karma are.

And there's her father, Mark Wheatcroft, a successful lawyer, with a wife and four-year-old daughter, Casey.  Learning Mark's daughter has leukemia and he'd like Dylan to agree to a blood test to check for a bone marrow match, Dylan feels even more humiliated and numbed by the self-centeredness of everyone around her.  This just adds to her already-heightened concern of impending environmental doom, a planet destined for destruction from selfish humans.

Revelations by her mother, Mark, Toni, and Jax have Dylan confused about what she needs to do, especially when some stories are true, others are untruths to make things better, and some are harmful lies.  Even the hummingbird tattoo on her mother's wrist becomes something different and more, when Dylan learns that Mark has an identical one on his wrist.

Much of Hummingbird Heart revolves around the theme of self-awareness, and knowing who you are and what you want and what you will do to get it.  Sadly, Dylan's insightful thoughts like,  "It was strange, the way an ordinary day could suddenly seem so beautiful and so fragile it made you ache" (pg. 14-15) are not considered valid by her until she begins to see the weaknesses of those around her.  Even the courage that Mark showed in breaking off with Amanda is wrapped in selfishness: "I can't be around you and still have room to be who I want to be." (pg. 251) Somehow, by making the characters less vulnerable to guilt and pleas from others, Robin Stevenson takes Hummingbird Heart from just a mirror of a young girl's attempt to understand others as well as herself to a piece of artwork, extensive and colourful, deep and enduring, of choices, wonderful or humiliating, like a tattoo, hummingbird or otherwise.

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