HEART SISTER by Michael F. Stewart

HEART SISTER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In Stewart’s (Ray vs the Meaning of Life, 2018, etc.) novel, a Toronto teen searches for the transplant patients who received organs from his late twin sister.

The death of 16-year-old car-accident victim Minnie Highland has understandably shattered the remaining members of her family. Since she died six weeks ago, her father has refused to even say her name, and her mother has spent her days doing nothing but lying around the house. Minnie’s twin brother, Emmitt, becomes motivated by an anonymous letter that he receives from a woman who received Minnie’s heart, signed “Heart Daughter, Heart Sister.” He wants to help his parents overcome their depression by locating all the recipients of his sister’s organs, metaphorically reuniting the “pieces of Minnie.” He does this artistically by tracking down and filming willing organ recipients and editing their responses into old film footage of Minnie asking questions (such as “If you were an animal, what would you be?”). However, Emmitt finds that a few recipients, including a drunk and a racist, don’t seem to have been truly worthy of Minnie’s donations. He comes to feel that his project will only be complete when he tracks down his original inspiration, “Heart Daughter, Heart Sister.” He contacts her through the National Transplant Organization, but for unexplained reasons, she doesn’t want to reveal her identity or meet with him. His determination to find her leads him into trouble—and a few unexpected plot turns. Stewart’s story is ultimately uplifting despite its grim setup. He shows how Emmitt gradually comes to care for the various recipients he meets, although helping Joey, an alcoholic with Minnie’s liver, proves to be an arduous undertaking. Emmitt is definitely an eccentric protagonist with an offbeat outlook; at one point, for instance, he tells a recipient that his sister was a taxidermist: “You’re like a dead thing, and now you’ve had life stuffed into you.” As such, he’s refreshingly distinctive, as are other characters such as recipient Dennis, who has a deep fondness for Korean pop music and gleefully aids in Emmitt’s search. The book’s most profound moments, though, are Emmitt’s creatively filmed segments, which play out in the text in screenplay format.

A touching, heartfelt story with a healthy measure of hope.

Page count: 286pp
Publisher: manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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