A Heart in a Body in the World – A gutting, haunting testimony of loss and grief

A Heart in a Body in the World

Publication date : September 18th, 2018

Publisher : Simon Pulse

Genre : Young Adult | Contemporary

Page Count: 358

Synopsis : When everything has been taken from you, what else is there to do but run?
So that’s what Annabelle does—she runs from Seattle to Washington, DC, through mountain passes and suburban landscapes, from long lonely roads to college towns. She’s not ready to think about the why yet, just the how—muscles burning, heart pumping, feet pounding the earth. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t outrun the tragedy from the past year, or the person—The Taker—that haunts her.

Followed by Grandpa Ed in his RV and backed by her brother and two friends (her self-appointed publicity team), Annabelle becomes a reluctant activist as people connect her journey to the trauma from her past. Her cross-country run gains media attention and she is cheered on as she crosses state borders, and is even thrown a block party and given gifts. The support would be nice, if Annabelle could escape the guilt and the shame from what happened back home. They say it isn’t her fault, but she can’t feel the truth of that.

Through welcome and unwelcome distractions, she just keeps running, to the destination that awaits her. There, she’ll finally face what lies behind her—the miles and love and loss…and what is to come. (From Goodreads)

Rating:5 stars

A Heart in a Body in the World

CW: Depression, anxiety, PTSD, shooting, blood, graphic description of gunshot wounds, grief. 

(No spoilers)

I usually do not review audiobooks. I simply don’t. Because it’s the little part of my reading I do solely for enjoyment without paying too much attention to technicalities or being somewhat critical. But I had to make an exception for this one (like I did for The Poet X) because after finishing it, I found myself with so many emotions and thoughts that just demanded for a way out, and how else do I ever get those out if not in review form? I didn’t even take notes, so the following will be me 100% winging it, which…is unheard of.

First of all, can we talk about that title? A Heart in a Body in the World is the kind of title that makes you want to pick up the book because of how poetic it is, and how intriguing it is, it just draws you towards the story, without knowing anything about it. Or at least, that’s what it did for me.

The writing is absolutely stunning and eviscerating. Deb Caletti does such a brilliant job at capturing you inside the main character’s head which is both amazing and terrifying,…or maybe that’s just me, because I saw so many of my own thoughts, fears and experiences mirrored in hers. Not the exact events, far from it, but the same consequences on my mental health, on my emotions and relationships. But either way, the writing is the kind that gets a strong grip on your heart and doesn’t let it go, feeling in turn like a punch and a hug. The audiobook is narrated by Julia Whalen, and this was my first time experiencing her as a narrator but her performance on this one has made her an instantaneous favorite. She did such a wonderful job driving the book’s message home, as well as expressing every single emotion the MC felt exactly the way it was supposed to.

The book starts on a fairly mysterious note, all we know is that Annabelle, the main character, went through some severe trauma, that left her with a spiraling mental health and nightmarish PTSD. And I don’t know if it’s the case for everyone but, you start gathering very quickly what happened, not the details of it, that only gets revealed at the end, but you know who/what she lost, what she’s grieving and who took it all from her. It’s someone she calls The Taker, someone whose name we don’t find out until the end. And I think that every storytelling choice the author made was carefully thought out and it only made the story hit home better. Why, you ask? Because the fact that the particular trauma isn’t really named makes this book relatable to any person who’s undergone trauma and found themself with post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath. 

Most of the book isn’t about the event itself, it’s about Annabelle processing her feelings of guilt and self hatred, her fear and fury, it’s about her grieving all she’s lost, falling down and getting back up, making one step forward, before making three steps backwards and five forwards again. It’s about showing that recovery and healing isn’t linear and that some day you’ll be okay while other you’ll feel like you’re drowning under the weight of it all. And that’s such a crucial message and one that felt so deeply personal to me that I found myself crying multiple times through the book. And sobbing at the end.

That being said, we do learn about the traumatic event, but we do so gradually throughout the whole book, and the fact that it was done through PTSD flashbacks, nightmares and ruminations made it all sometimes too much to bare, but not in a bad way at all. It felt organic and authentic because that’s exactly what happens. The trauma doesn’t stop after the event, it keeps on assaulting your mind when you expect it the least and you can do nothing but wait it out and let it wash over you. The book isn’t about the run, yes, we do see the MC run quite a bit and we do witness the toll running so much for so long has on her body but above all, we follow the progression of her mental state, and throughout the book -and the run- she relives her experiences with The Taker from the day they meet to the day he takes everything from her.

Annabelle is such a wonderfully real main character. She felt like I was living inside my own brain which is simultaneously validating and a pain in my ass. She’s strong and resilient but also has her moments of absolute despair where she sinks into depression and spirales into a self-destructive headspace while her PTSD takes control over her, and that was just…so painfully true, Annabelle rings true from A to Z, her pain, her tentativeness in trusting life again and the shy slivers of happiness she starts feeling again. I honestly loved her journey and character arc SO MUCH, because it showed that there’s no miracle cure, no easy way out and you have to claw your way to the top and fight for every victory against your inner demons.

I adored the side characters and how amazing of a support system they were. Her grandpa’s tough love that was welcome most of the time but sometimes misguided, his character was such a nice comic relief too. Her little brother, Malcolm’s, annoying self and his unconditional love and support for everything she does. Her mom’s reluctance at first but then her encouragements later, how she knew when to push and when to leave Annabelle alone. And then her friends and all their efforts to push her out of her comfort zone and get her to do things she’s scared of but that were ultimately good for her. And then, Luke, soft sweet Luke, who was there for her without ever expecting anything in return, supporting her and showing her he likes and cares about her without ever making her feel like she has to do something about it.

A Heart in a Body in the World is a heavy but incredibly important read, it’s the best PTSD and grieving/healing portrayal I’ve ever read. I know that everyone is different and what was the best for me might not be for other people but I wholeheartedly think that this book drove its message home expertly.

That’s it until next time.

Did you read A Heart in a Body in the World? If so, what did you think?

Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.



11 thoughts on “A Heart in a Body in the World – A gutting, haunting testimony of loss and grief

  1. This is a very, very, very beautiful review, Fadwa, I loved reading this so much ❤ I'm so happy this book had such an impact on you! I'm not sure whether or not I'll read it because of how heavy it seems, but maybe I will give it a try when I am in the right headspace, it sounds like a really, really fantastic read. 🙂


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