My Beating Teenage Heart

My Beating Teenage Heart

4.4 7
by C. K. Kelly Martin

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Ashlyn Baptiste is falling. One moment she was nothing—no memories, no self—and then suddenly, she's plummeting through a sea of stars. Is she in a coma? She doesn't remember dying, and she has no memories of the life she left behind. All she knows is that she's trapped in a consciousness without a body and she's spending every moment watching a


Ashlyn Baptiste is falling. One moment she was nothing—no memories, no self—and then suddenly, she's plummeting through a sea of stars. Is she in a coma? She doesn't remember dying, and she has no memories of the life she left behind. All she knows is that she's trapped in a consciousness without a body and she's spending every moment watching a stranger.

Breckon Cody's on the edge. He's being ripped apart by grief so intense it literally hurts to breathe. On the surface, Breckon is trying to hold it together for his family and his girlfriend, but underneath he's barely hanging on.

Even though she didn't know him in life, Ashlyn sees Breckon's pain, and she's determined to find a way help him. As her own distressing memories emerge from the darkness, she struggles to communicate with the boy who can't see her, but whose life is suddenly intertwined with hers. In alternating voices of the main characters, My Beating Teenage Heart paints a devastatingly vivid picture of both the heartbreak and the promise of teenage life—a life Ashlyn would do anything to recover and Breckon seems desperate to destroy—and will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen, John Green, and David Levithan.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—When Ashlyn wakes up, she doesn't know who or where she is. She slowly comes to realize that not only is she dead, but she is also inexplicably bound to watch over Breckon, a teen whose younger sister has suddenly died. As Ashlyn tries to make sense of her connection to Breckon—she can't leave his side, not even to visit her family—she watches him succumb to depression from guilt over his sister's death, deliberately hurting himself and abusing drugs. Told in alternating chapters by Ashlyn and Breckon, the novel contrasts his disintegration with her growing awareness of the personal strength she never recognized she had while she was alive. Similar in tone to Jenny Downham's Before I Die (Random, 2007), but with a supernatural tinge not unlike Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall (HarperTeen, 2010), this novel is a somber but ultimately optimistic depiction of the grieving process. While both of the protagonists' responses to death motivate the central plot, the mystery of Ashlyn's connection to Breckon accelerates the pace. The answer proves almost disappointingly mundane. Nonetheless the reassuring ending contains just the right amount of hope.—Amy S. Pattee, Simmons College, Boston
Publishers Weekly
Caught in limbo, 15-year-old Ashlyn's spirit hovers over a teenager she doesn't know. The reason she is connected to Breckon, bereft over the death of his seven-year-old sister, is a mystery at first, but Ashlyn senses that it is her mission to save him. Through alternating points of view, Martin (The Lighter Side of Life and Death) explores the woeful stories of both teenagers. Breckon, wracked with guilt, starts injuring himself and grows dependent on sleeping pills, while Ashlyn gradually recovers memories of her life, including some disturbing revelations late in the book. This novel, which may be too bleak for some readers, focuses more on Ashlyn and Breckon's regrets and yearning than on their healing; the characters' voices are distinct, but Ashlyn's feels more overdone than believable ("I miss the beat of my heart.... I miss being able to swing my hips to the pounding beat of the latest chart-topping dance hit"). The book's permeating sadness will likely be felt more sharply than both characters' redemption during the somewhat strained conclusion. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
VOYA, October 2011:
Life is full of mysteries and unanswered questions. This novel is an excellent bibliotherapy for anyone who has recently suffered an unexplainable loss and has to keep living. Martin has written a teen angst novel filled with all the "big questions" of life. It resembles a teen version of the play Whose Life is it Anyway? by Brian Clark. The book may wake the reader up to all the unrecognized beauty life has to offer. Reviewer: Ellen Frank                

VOYA - Ellen Frank
Ever wonder what it is like to lose a sister suddenly and feel like you cannot go on? Breckon cannot move and feels like he is responsible for her death. Along comes Ashlyn, recently died, but returning to earth to fulfill a mission. She does not know why she is tied to Breckon, but must convey some mysterious message or watch over him. She is clueless, as is the reader, until the very end of the novel, about what exactly her purpose is. My Beating Teenage Heart is written in alternating chapters between the voices of Breckon and Ashlyn. Life is full of mysteries and unanswered questions. We learn the interplay of life re-blooming and a life lost. C.K. Kelly Martin keeps you in suspense until the last page of this paranormal mystery. This novel is excellent bibliotherapy for anyone who has recently suffered an unexplainable loss and has to keep living. The voices of Ashlyn and Breckon will resonate long after the novel is read. Their dilemmas are real and timeless. Martin has written a teen angst novel filled with all the "big questions" of life. It resemebles a teen version of the play Whose Life is it Anyway? by Brian Clark. The book may wake the reader up to all the unrecognized beauty life has to offer. It has a strong anti-suicide twist and if it saves one depressed teen's life, the novel will have earned its place on your shelf. Reviewer: Ellen Frank
Children's Literature - Heather Robertson Mason
She was part of the stars for a minute...then she started falling. When she stopped, she was looking at Brecken, but how can she help him when she cannot speak to him or call for help or even remember who she is? This novel is both a view at intense grief and a hypothesis about what happens when we die. Ashlyn is a disembodied soul who can't seem to understand what is happening to her. She can see Brecken's pain, but is seemingly unable to help. Brecken, however, is still alive and struggling with his feelings over his sister's death, a death he feels he caused. Brecken's grief and guilt are so intense he contemplates suicide just to be free of it. As the story continues, his grief grows as does Ashlyn's memory of the life she left behind. Brecken's feelings are so realistically written just reading about them is painful. Ahslyn's story is not as gripping, but then there is no tension to her story other than how she relates to Brecken. To enjoy this book the belief in an afterlife and that the souls of loved ones remain with us must be accepted. The author avoids writing about religion (God is never mentioned) or morality, avoiding issues that might offend or limit readership to a particular belief. Instead the story is kept strictly in the here and now. The only troublesome issue with this novel is the inclusion of a few descriptions of sex. They do not seem to have a context in this story and seem out of place. They do not ruin the story, but they do make it for mature readers only. Overall, this book is a beautifully written story and a good read for older readers interested in more philosophical stories. Reviewer: Heather Robertson Mason

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


The first moment is utter darkness. The absence of thought, the absence of everything. An absence that stretches infinitely backwards and threatens to smother your sanity—if there was a you, that is. But there’s not. I am nothing and no one. I never was. I must not have been because otherwise, wouldn’t I remember?

Don’t look back. Don’t let the darkness inside you.

If I’m talking to myself, there must be a me. That in itself is a revelation. I exist. The second before was starkly empty and now I’m swimming with celestial stars. They’re as silent as stones but they shimmer, glimmer and shine. I think . . . I think I can hear them after all but not in a way I’ve heard anything before.

The sound isn’t music and it’s not whispers. I don’t have words to describe it. If teardrops, blinding sunshine and limitless knowledge combined to make a noise, it would be the one the stars hum while I float amongst them. I don’t know much, but this is something I’m certain I’m learning for the first time: the stars know things that we don’t and they always have.

And then, just as my mind begins to expand with questions

—who am I?

—where is this?

—how am I . . .

I’m falling, plummeting through the glittering darkness at a speed that would normally make your stomach drop. Instinct kicks in and makes me throw out my hands to break my fall. Only, I don’t have any—no hands and no stomach either.

The fear of falling exists in my consciousness and nowhere else. There’s nothing I can do to stop my descent. Beneath me continents of light beam their brightness as I speed towards them.

Catch me, stars. Help me.

But they’re not stars, as it turns out. They’re the lights you see from a jumbo jet when you’re coming in for a night landing. They make civilization appear minuscule and for some reason that makes me want to sob but I can’t do that either. No hands, no stomach, no tears.

What happens when I hit bottom?

I’m so close now that I can spy individual cars, streetlamps, house lights left on.

Is someone, someplace, waiting for me, leaving the light on?

Where am I supposed to be?

A pointed suburban roof reaches up to meet me, and if I have no body, surely there are no bones to shatter, no damage to fear, but my consciousness flinches anyway. It quakes and tries to yank whoever or whatever I am away from the solid mass shooting up underneath me.

In the split second it takes to realize I’ve failed, I’m already through the ceiling. Inside, falling still. Falling . . . and then not.

I don’t crash. I don’t even touch down. All I can do is stare into the pair of blinking eyes below me. They’re not even a foot away. They’re the distance you hold yourself from someone when you’re on your way to a kiss. I don’t remember my own kisses but I remember the concept the same way I remember what a roof or a jumbo jet is. I remember romance, yearning, love and hate in a way that has nothing to do with me. Maybe I’ve never been in love—or maybe it’s happened a hundred times but so very long ago that I’ve forgotten each of them. I can’t decide which idea is sadder.

The eyes open and close as I stare at them. His eyes. The white boy’s. They’re not staring back at me, but looking clean through. If I had a body I’d estimate it was hovering just above his, toe to toe and head to head with him.

It’s night and we’re cloaked in darkness, the two of us. But he’s the only one who’s truly here. Here. Wherever that is.

I’d move if I could, give him the space he doesn’t realize he’s lacking. I feel awkward, embarrassed about all I can see from here—his pores, his nose hairs, a cracking bottom lip that could use lip balm—even though he doesn’t appear to have a clue he’s being spied upon. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m like a camera, picking up images but not in control of angles or focal length.

So I watch the boy’s eyelashes flutter and listen to him breathe. What his lungs expel sounds like a steak knife slashing into meat. Not like an asthmatic but like someone so steeped in despair it’s a wonder he hasn’t drowned in it. How long can someone live like this? It hurts to hear. My nonexistent hands clamp themselves over my nonexistent ears.

Outwardly, my focus barely shifts. I’m still floating over him, listening to breaths of bottomless anguish. Wait . . .

I must be asleep. My fall from the stars and the hurt I hear in this boy’s breathing, they can’t be real. This vision I’m watching is nothing but a wildly vivid dream. When I wake up tomorrow, with my stomach, my hands and all my memories intact, I’ll shake my head at my panic. Then I’ll grab a pen and jot the details down before they fade to nothing. I imagine how crazy every bit of this will seem when I read it back in the morning. Stars that make a noise of wisdom. The power to read emotions through someone’s breath.

Insane. Even for a dream. Why not dream of something my eyes would want to linger on—the rapturous merging of two bodies or a purple sky hanging over a majestic blue-green waterfall? Why dream of this sad boy?

I examine him, attempt to cement the details in my mind so I can record them when I wake up, and as I’m watching I realize I can shift the camera here and there after all—not much, but a little. Yes, I can stare at him from the end of the bed if I prefer, or from a blue acoustic guitar leaning against the wall near his window. Maybe I can even . . . No, I can’t escape the room, can’t leave him behind. That’s beyond my power. He’s meant to be the star of this dream for reasons my unconscious isn’t ready to share with me. I notice that when I turn away from him to study the room, my gaze jumps inadvertently back to him before long.

And when it does this is what I see: a white boy of about sixteen or seventeen, curly brown hair framing his face. His pupils are light but in the dark I can’t determine whether they’re green, blue or even hazel. The boy’s lying in bed in a gray T-shirt, his bare arms stretched over the covers. He’s motionless. Stiller than still except for the blinking. The horrible breathing has stopped, or so it seems. When I listen more intently I realize I can still hear it if I choose. There are some things I can control within this dream, evidently, and this strange audio ability is one of them.

I watch the teenage boy close his eyes. A cell phone rings on the bedside table next to him. My eyes follow his as they dart to the phone and I wonder if the call is important in the scheme of this dream fiction. Perhaps the real action is finally getting started.

Meet the Author

C. K. KELLY MARTIN is the critically acclaimed author of I Know It's Over, One Lonely Degree, and The Lighter Side of Life and Death. She lives in the Toronto area with her husband. You can visit her website and blog at

From the Hardcover edition.

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My Beating Teenage Heart 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
ZainsadiqHighSch00l More than 1 year ago
I think this book was interesting in it's own ways. It had it's ups and downs, but the way that nothing really connects sometimes is slightly bothersome, but the book itself is great and I would really reccommend looking into buying/checking out this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is like my life bro. Love it to death.
The_BookishType More than 1 year ago
My Beating Teenage Heart is unlike any tale of death and the afterlife I've ever read. It is a surreal experience, an existential look at life and death and meaning. C. K. Kelly Martin's prose envelops readers, giving them a sometimes poetic and sometimes stark look at her characters' reality. This story transcends age. Though the title references teenagers, the pain the two protagonists experience is sympathetic to anyone who's ever lost a loved one, been abused, been bullied, struggled to hang on. Martin plunges headfirst into a range of painful and hard-hitting issues, treating them all with piercing, but ultimately necessary, honesty. Breckon's struggle with his family's tragedy is dark and raw. Martin doesn't shy away from the sometimes drastic measures people turn to in their grief, or try to rationalize the reckless abandon that comes with intense pain. He is lost and guilt-ridden and alone, pushing everyone away as he wallows in his despair. Though his feelings are understandable, at times his behavior is distancing. He doesn't try to be a martyr, which is a relief, but he's also willing to let himself hit rock bottom, to be dragged into the abyss. He doesn't try to save himself. Breckon tries so hard to suppress his emotions that they become abstract, not as viscerally wrenching for readers unfamiliar with this kind of utter devastation. The emotion behind his actions doesn't always shine through, making it difficult to connect with his motivations. The novel features a surprising element of mystery, as readers struggle to uncover the connection between Ashlyn and Breckon, and the events that led to their separate tragedies. Ashlyn herself is in the dark (both literally and figuratively) as the novel opens. She intuitively senses that there are some things about her life she doesn't want to face, and as her memories slowly return, readers will feel the pain and frustration of injustice and cruelty alongside her. Ashlyn is a fascinating counterpoint to Breckon. They are both broken in different ways, but in life Ashlyn was determined to carry on through the pain. Her life was far from perfect, and in death she comes to realize that sometimes heartbreak and suffering are senseless, but if we're lucky, we manage to rise from the ashes -- a reality Breckon desperately needs to face. The ending of the novel feels a little abrupt. The exposition seems to suggest a profound connection between their fates, but though there is one, it's fairly insubstantial. The resolution becomes increasingly philosophical, much too tidy for such a somber tale. Though it is perhaps the "expected" message, it diminishes the truth of loss and living that the novel has been working toward, and left me feeling a little unfulfilled. Nonetheless, My Beating Teenage Heart is a highly intelligent novel, thought-provoking and to-the-point look at the randomness of tragedy, the sometimes irrational effects of grief, and the seemingly insignificant ways we touch each other's lives that may turn out to be the only moments that truly matter. ~Review from thebookishtype[.]blogspot[.]com
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mind if I join in? Cx
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very descriptive and decrbed the characters well...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brings his keyboard and his backpack into the room. He sets his music on the keyboard and sets down his bow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago