My Heartbeat by Garret Wehr
Narrator Ellen learns about love, family and "society's unwritten rules" in this sophisticated but gentle novel set in Manhattan. Ellen adores her older brother, Link, and has had a crush on Link's best friend, James, since seventh grade. But at 14, when she starts high school, popular classmate Adena, who really likes Link, mentions to Ellen: "They're like a couple, aren't they?" Freymann-Weyr (When I Was Older) subtly and authentically follows Ellen's thought process as the question triggers a series of responses: "I resolve never to ask them. Ever. I resolve to put it out of my mind. There is no reason for me to know." Yet Ellen reviews their past behavior for clues. When Ellen finally frames the question to Link and James ("I spear a cherry with an unused fork... and ask if they are a couple"), Link denies it, avoids James and gets a girlfriend. Ellen and James, meanwhile, grow closer. As their relationship becomes physical, some inconsistencies surface (e.g., why, if Ellen is so loyal to her brother, would she "date" James?). But the sensitivity with which the author handles the issues of whom one loves and complexities more far-reaching than sexual concerns outweigh these minor matters. Ellen relates telling details about herself and those around her with humor and compassion, exposing the many dimensions of her parents as well as the three featured teens. A thoughtful approach to the many confusing signals that accompany awakening sexuality.
This collage portray's Ellen and Link. The symbols show what type of pressure they have as teenagers and young adults. For example, the graduation cap reminds us of the pressure for Link to graduate with good grades. The Yale symbol represent the pressure from his father to go to Yale, an Ivy league school. On the other side, the A+ represents the grades that Ellen's father wants her to work towards. The picture of the girl leaning on the boy represents Ellen's struggle with Link and trying to be "close" to him. The wine represents the times when she drinks with James. This also represents a time when Ellen feels she is not who her parents think she is. As a teenager, do you feel that you were someone else other than who your parents thought you were? Did you try to accomplish goals because your parents wanted you to? If not, how did you deal with the pressure that your parents put on you if they did? What are some ways teens can deal with the hardships and pressure of being a teenager?
The image and the words above are said by James to Ellen on pages 68-69. He created her a portrait of herself, drawing her as a storybook princess and writing down the qualities he liked best about her. Ellen didn't see some of these qualities within herself. Has anyone ever commented you about something that you just didn't really see or understand why they did? If so, did you ever notice that quality again?