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Cold Hands, Warm Heart

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

4.1 12
by Jill Wolfson

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Dani was born with her heart on the wrong side of her body. In her fifteen years of life, she's had more doctor's appointments, X-rays, and tests, and eaten more green hospital Jell-O than she cares to think about. Fourteen-year-old Amanda is a competitive gymnast, her body a small package of sleek muscles, in perfect health. The two girls don't know each other,


Dani was born with her heart on the wrong side of her body. In her fifteen years of life, she's had more doctor's appointments, X-rays, and tests, and eaten more green hospital Jell-O than she cares to think about. Fourteen-year-old Amanda is a competitive gymnast, her body a small package of sleek muscles, in perfect health. The two girls don't know each other, don't go to the same school, don't have any friends in common. But their lives are about to collide.

Acclaimed author Jill Wolfson tackles this fascinating story with her trademark honesty and wit.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Kristin Anderson
Fifteen-year-old Dani was born with a congenital heart condition. She has had to struggle with her illness for her entire life, but it has finally reached the point where she needs to receive a heart transplant or she will die. Taken alone, this premise sounds like the setup for a Lurlene McDaniel read-alike. What makes this book particularly poignant and unique is that Dani's story is juxtaposed against the story of fourteen-year-old Amanda, who has a tragic accident at a gymnastics meet and whose parents are struggling with whether her organs should be donated. Both families have adjustments to make in the wake of the transplant that ultimately occurs. Told from multiple viewpoints, the book is effective at showing the complexities of emotions that surround the organ donation and transplantation processes. Perhaps most moving is Dani's awareness that her desperate wish to receive a heart transplant is, in effect, a wish for another person to die. Only the perspective of the driver responsible for transporting the organs between facilities feels clunky and disruptive of the overall flow of the story. This book has appeal beyond the McDaniel crowd, but the cover (which is dominated by an illustration of a human heart) will not necessarily appeal to the audience that will most appreciate the book. Hand selling may be necessary but worthwhile. Reviewer: Kristin Anderson
Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
Fifteen-year-old Dani, born with a flawed heart positioned on the wrong side of her body, will die unless she receives a heart transplant in the next two weeks. Fourteen-year-old Amanda, a competitive gymnast, becomes brain-dead after a freak accident on the uneven bars. Wolfson weaves together the stories of the two girls who end up sharing one single, beating heart. In the process, she provides extensive, sometimes extremely graphic, information about exactly how organ transfer takes place: from guilty, desperate hope that someone young and healthy enough will die in the nick of time, to the extensive and somewhat gruesome operation itself, to the recovery period during which anti-rejection medication and massive doses of steroids produce unpleasant and unattractive side effects. The multiple points of view (shifting around from members of both families to hospital personnel and even to the driver who delivers organs from one hospital to another) give a well-rounded portrait of organ transplantation even as they distance the reader from identification with any one participant. While also offering a believable emerging love story between Dani and Milo, the morbidly brooding boy in the next hospital room who is waiting for a liver transplant, this is primarily a problem novel showcasing the admittedly fascinating and important issue of organ transplantation. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 8-10

Fifteen-year-old Dani has a congenital heart defect and is waiting for a transplant. Fellow patients in the hospital include Wendy, a pesky 8-year-old awaiting a kidney, and 17-year-old Milo, the bad-boy love interest who abused his first transplanted liver and is determined to do better if given a second chance. Dani and Wendy become "transplant sisters" when they receive organs from the same donor, a 14-year-old competitive gymnast named Amanda. Readers come to know and appreciate Amanda through the remembrances of her older brother, Tyler, who discovers her true, caring nature when he searches through her computer files. Some of the characters are truly extraneous and the writing is sometimes clichéd, but readers will still feel the wrenching agony of the donor's family. The physical and emotional anguish that transplant recipients endure appears to be realistically portrayed, as is the strong language to express their anger and frustration. It is unfortunate that the book begins with a dreadfully erroneous description of a gymnastics meet, including gymnasts who vault over a pommel horse and swing from metal uneven parallel bars. It is difficult to trust the author's medical information after such a shaky introduction to the story. Nonetheless adolescent readers may be drawn to the drama surrounding organ transplants, the teen love affair, and the dynamics of Tyler and Amanda's sibling relationship.-Patricia N. McClune, Conestoga Valley High School, Lancaster, PA

Kirkus Reviews
When Dani looks in the mirror she sees a "blue-lipped, cold-handed, gray-skinned fifteen-year-old." Born with the fatal heart condition dextrocardia, Dani has survived, with difficulty, but now her health is failing fast. Mere miles away from Dani's hospital bed, Amanda, a 14-year-old gymnast, flips and leaps through the air until a freak accident bonds these two strangers forever. Told mostly in Dani's witty voice, the novel reveals her intimate thoughts as readers accompany her through her transplant, as she falls in love with a fellow patient and as she wrestles with the magnitude of receiving another girl's heart. Woven throughout the text are chapters about Amanda, the most powerful of which focus on Tyler, her older brother, and give her life beyond the label of donor. Detailed, accurate descriptions of medical procedures are leavened with humor and sincerity, providing a powerful, multifaceted exploration of ethics, love and the celebration of life. (Fiction. 10 & up)
From the Publisher

“Organ transplants tell a Janus-faced story: Someone lives; someone dies. If you're already saying, "Who wants a book about that?" Wolfson's book will get you over that and into an intense, likable reading experience…Many readers will pick this book up tentatively and stay on, transfixed.” —Chicago Tribune

“Detailed, accurate descriptions of medical procedures are leavened with humor and sincerity, providing a powerful, multifaceted exploration of ethics, love and the celebration of life.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“The social and psychological ramifications of organ transplantation on the lives of recipients and the family members of the recently deceased fuel the plot of this well-written novel...Showing teens confronting unexpected emotions in both themselves and others, this novel is sure to please fans of realistic but gentle teen romance or medical stories.” —Booklist

“The subject is immediately gripping, and the book is genuinely thoughtful…the emotional subject will likely grab readers looking for a melodramatic good time.” —BCCB

“Told from multiple viewpoints, the book is effective at showing the complexities of emotions that surround organ donation and transplantation processes.” —VOYA

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
HL760L (what's this?)
File size:
801 KB
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

By Jill Wolfson

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2009 Jill Wolfson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3831-0


Amanda stood before the table of judges, waiting for her turn to compete on the uneven bars. Her hair was pulled into a bun, tight enough to give anyone a headache and moussed hard and flat to her scalp. Her leotard was black velvet with a splash of sequins from the waist up, like a glamorous coat of armor cut low in the back to emphasize her muscular shoulders.

At fourteen, Amanda was short for her age, but all legs and arm strength. Her body fat measured so low that she had gotten her period only once, a thin flow of blood before it stopped and showed no sign of making another appearance. Her longtime coach, an ex-college gymnast named Dave, was secretly pleased that his star performer had cheated puberty. It kept her hips narrow, her chest as flat as a nine-year-old's. No cramps, no bloating, not the usual moaning of teenagers feeling too sick to work out. Amanda remained an arrow of a girl built for slicing through the air.

All around the gym that afternoon, a four-ring circus of flips, spins, and jumps was taking place. On the balance beam, one competitor threw a double back flip and stumbled the landing, a big deduction of points. Another girl vaulted off the pommel horse, landing with a crisp arch of her back. In a floor routine, a girl in a bright red leotard performed three lightning-speed front handsprings in a row.

As always when awaiting her turn to compete, Amanda didn't fidget. Her arms hung at her sides, like the palms were stitched to the thighs. By the lack of emotion on her face, she could have been waiting, bored, in a grocery store line. Other competitors couldn't help but let on how nervous they were, their hands clammy and their faces turning either too red or too white from the strain of reining in their emotions. There was one girl on Amanda's team who threw up before many competitions. Especially at an important one like this, the official state meet, the chance to compete in the Nationals riding on the outcome.

At this late point in the day, most of the observers — mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents — had sore bottoms and shifted uncomfortably in the hard bleacher seats. The little brothers and sisters of the gymnasts, bored to tears by now, swatted each other with scorecards. Everyone was breathing in the sharp, greasy smell of the nachos sold by the Booster Club.

Amanda's mother, Claire — brown-haired and green-eyed, her daughter definitely shared her coloring — sat four rows up on the stands, nervously biting her lower lip. Even though she was a gym-meet veteran of many years, her body still couldn't bear the lull leading up to when Amanda's hands first touched the bars. With a heavy sigh, Claire checked her watch. Seated next to her, another gym mom flashed a smile of empathy.

Almost directly behind Claire sat her ex-husband Robert, Amanda's father. Usually these two made a point of sitting on opposite ends of the gym, so it was an uncomfortable coincidence that they found themselves so close together. Amanda knew, of course, that both her parents were there in the bleachers, but she didn't wave, make eye contact, or acknowledge them in any way. She didn't want that kind of distraction. Just the thought of her parents being in the same room was enough to give her a stomachache. She hated the low-level tension when they were forced to be together, how they nodded at each other with pursed lips. It had been especially awful before her dad broke up with his girlfriend.

She dashed this image from her mind and brought herself back to the competition, wondering, Why are the judges taking so long? How long could it take to add up the previous score?

Some girls from another team (blue leotards with red and white stripes down the sides) finished their turns on the balance beam and drifted closer to the bars. They stood off to the side, waiting to get a better look at Amanda, the gymnast who was known for never flubbing a routine on the uneven bars, who never gave anyone else a chance to go home with a first-place medal. The girls stood shoulder to shoulder, sipping from water bottles and gossiping about Amanda's leotard ("too showy"), her personality ("too Little Miss Perfect"). One of the girls whispered what the others were all thinking: "Can't she miss, like, just once?"

And then, finally.

The head judge put down her pen and raised her right arm, the signal to begin. Amanda straightened her already squared shoulders and returned the salute. She flashed the kind of smile where all her teeth showed. Then her mouth collapsed into a tight, determined line. She breathed in slowly and deeply, letting the air turn her belly as hard and round as an inverted wooden bowl. With the full muscle of both legs, Amanda ran, and then hit the springboard that carried her straight up, her hands gripping the highest of the two metal bars.

That was the point where her mind shut off and allowed her body — the muscles, tendons, bones, lungs, heart — to remember what they were trained to do.

Amanda swung forward. For a brief, breathtaking moment, she let go of the bar and hung suspended in midair before dropping and twisting just in time to grasp the lower bar. In the next swift, effortless move, she jumped back to the high bar, her body already pumping forward. The next skill required enormous strength and split-second timing. Up she went into a handstand, as if an invisible thread had pulled her into position and held her there, defying gravity.

Coach Dave clenched his fist, pumped it in the air. "Yesssss," he said with five sharp S's.

The girls in blue leotards with red and white stripes rolled their eyes at each other.

Next came the giants, the straight-arm swings around the bar. Amanda loved this move best of all. Hurling her body up and over, around and around, she was always on the verge of out of control, pushing up to the danger line, right up to it. It had to be that way. That was where the top scores waited, right at the upper limit of speed and power, right up to the very treacherous edge, where other girls got scared and backed off.

There, up to that point, right there, nothing less.

And then.

Afterward, after it was all over, one of Amanda's teammates swore that this was when she heard a gasp. "Like someone seeing a ghost," she said.

But the head judge, who was well trained to pick up on anything out of the ordinary — a toe not pointed, a back with a few degrees too much arch — testified she had noticed only the very slightest overrotation. "It was a beautiful routine. Until she ... the girl ... Amanda ... until she just lost it."

Afterward came all the theories, theory after theory that led nowhere definitive. Her mind must have wandered. Amanda's mind never wandered! Maybe she had gotten scared. Scared? Amanda, scared? Or maybe fate was involved, one of those cruel twists. Maybe something inside her body had been programmed from birth to give out on this particular Sunday at this particular minute.

Things like that happen. In this world, such strange, strange things do happen.

Her body hurled forward, then dropped. No one could agree on what hit where first, only that there was a clink of bone hitting metal, then a sickening thud when Amanda landed facedown on the floor. The head judge jumped from her chair, hand pressed over her mouth. People in the stands stopped chewing their nachos.

As one unit, the girls in red, white, and blue looked down at their feet. They didn't say anything. Saying it aloud would give their collective thoughts too much weight, too much reality. Was it possible? Could they have caused it? When they had wished she would miss just once? Had their jealousy tapped into an evil that powerful, a force that destructive? One of the girls, struggling with a mix of guilt and horror, prayed to the air, "Get up. Get up."

But Amanda lay there, looking like she was asleep except for the odd, unnatural angle of her neck. Light from the overhead fluorescents played on the sequins of her uniform. A man, the father of another competitor, rushed from his seat, shouting, "I'm a doctor. Don't move her!"

In the stands, five rows back, a man grasped the shoulder of the brown-haired, green-eyed woman in front of him. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out. Claire's right arm reached across her chest and covered her ex-husband's shaking hand with her own.


When Dr. David Silverman entered room 132, he noticed that the Schecters were in much the same positions as they had been for the past two days. Robert, the father, stood with his hands resting on the ledge of the windowsill, only vaguely aware of time, unconsciously marking its passage by cars coming and going in the hospital parking lot.

Next to him, slumped in a chair, the girl's older brother, his dark hair disheveled, his legs stretched out before him, was plugged into an iPod and bent over a video game. Tuned in and tuned out. There were circles under his eyes so dark it looked like some kindergartner had painted them there. Dr. Silverman tried to recall the boy's name. Travis? Taylor? It was one of those T names that was so prevalent among this crop of teenage boys. Tyler. That was it.

Then there was the mother, seated next to her daughter and hovering like mothers do. Any closer and Claire's chair would have been on the bed. Amanda lay elevated on a pillow, a gray hospital blanket tucked around her, her head in a white turban towel as if she had just stepped out of the shower.

Even with IV lines snaking into her arms, Amanda looked perfect. Achingly perfect, her mother thought. Only the slight bruise on her cheek from when she fell. Other than that, not a scratch anywhere. Her lips pink and full. Her eyes half open, the whites clear. Her skin soft and rosy, not even one of those rare zits that would send her huffing into the bathroom.

The nurses had arranged Amanda's arms over the outside of the blanket, so that Claire could stroke the light, downy hair. Despite the antiseptic surroundings, Amanda even smelled exactly like herself. One sniff of her daughter's neck or hair would always give Claire a sense of well-being, a feeling that all was basically right in the world.

Perfect, she said to herself, and then more adjectives floated into her mind: tough, funny, beautiful, too hard on herself, proud, loving, smart, determined.


Claire started at the sound of new footsteps in the room. When she looked up at Dr. Silverman, she smiled meekly and expectantly. Since the girl's accident and the emergency surgery, Dr. Silverman had come into this room many times to check her vital signs and to leave the family with the same message of hope mixed with caution. A large subdural hematoma, a blood clot. A lot of swelling. "Like a twisted ankle in the confined space of her skull," he had explained. "It's a time game. We have to wait and see."

But when the doctor entered the room this time, the father sensed something new and grave in the way he didn't meet anyone's eyes. He felt the avoidance like electricity traveling up his spine. "You know something. Something new," Robert said. It was not a question.

In response, Dr. Silverman dropped his head, chin to chest, only half a nod. "The most recent tests." He paused. "We've been measuring the blood flow to her brain." Another pause. "There is none."

"None," Robert repeated flatly.

The doctor offered synonyms, as if that would make his message more clear. "Zero. Negative. None."

Claire's eyes frantically tracked the doctor's face for something that would tell her that she was misunderstanding. How could these few syllables of negation — zero, negative, none — apply to her daughter? As Dr. Silverman forced himself to meet her look, he felt his professional detachment slipping. He wanted to tell this family ... what? What could he say? Four years of medical school, two residencies at top teaching hospitals, and hundreds of surgeries performed had prepared him for probing around the brain, the most delicate part of a human being. But they didn't give him words for this horrible moment. Dr. Silverman's recourse was to retreat emotionally, to gather the threads of his own fears, sadness, and anger and tuck them away. He became all doctor again.

"Terrible business," he said. "I'm sorry. I've declared her brain-dead."

"No." Claire said the word simply, as if correcting one of the students in her sixth-grade class who had just given the wrong answer to a math problem.

"I'm sorry," the doctor repeated. "Truly."

One by one, the mother's features began shifting. Eyes narrowed, nostrils flared, lips sucked in on themselves. For the first time since the accident, she screamed.

All this time, Tyler had been sitting off by himself. He didn't know what he was feeling. He clicked off the iPod and removed the earphones. He watched as his mother's sister, his aunt Jen, rushed into the room from the waiting area, followed by a nurse carrying a clipboard. Soon all three women were hugging and crying. The doctor placed his hand on Robert's shoulder. Tyler heard his father groan a deep, animal sound.

Now the hospital social worker entered the room, looked around, and immediately made a beeline for Tyler. The last thing he wanted right then was a stranger with a box of Kleenex. Desperate to avoid her, he scanned the room for an empty corner, found it, and ducked away.

Strange to find himself here in this corner. Until a few minutes ago, this was the spot where his mother had maintained her vigil over Amanda. Now Tyler's eyes swept along the length of gray blanket that covered his sister's toes, feet, legs, and torso. At the first glimpse of skin, real skin, Amanda's neck, his eyes snapped closed as if against a dust storm. With tight fists, he rubbed the lids and for a minute lost himself in the tricks of his optic nerve: the fantastic explosions of brightness, the wiggling little shapes like transparent worms under an overturned rock.

Tyler was sixteen years old, certainly no baby, and he knew, of course, about the inevitability of death, how everything eventually dies. Batteries and rosebushes and pet dogs and goldfish. Newly hatched birds fall out of nests. When he was a little kid, he had poked at that kind of death with a stick. Human beings, too. They die every day, every hour. Grandmothers and retired neighbors, that kid in the senior class last year hit by a drunk driver. People die on battlefields in foreign countries. They get blown up in airplanes and die just like old stars do, pieces of them thrown across the sky.

Yes, people die.

He steeled himself, blinked, and looked.

A face. A mouth. A nose. His sister's face. Death. Here it was.

He forced himself to hold his gaze steady and take in the details. The curve of her eyebrow, the light down on her upper lip. What was that on the outside corner of her right eye? A mole no bigger than a period on a page, nothing Tyler would have noticed before.

Only suddenly he realized that he had noticed it, not in any deliberate way but in the way he had unconsciously absorbed everything about his sister. Everything. Every day. The way she walked with her feet slightly turned out, how her nostrils flared when she was trying not to laugh. This mole, this tiny dot, was part of the landscape of her face. It wouldn't have been his sister without it.

He heard someone in the room say her name. Amanda. Then from someone else, his own name, Tyler.

He hesitated, then reached out and ran his index finger across her skin. It was still warm. The mole was too flat and small to even feel, but the knowledge that it was there, that he could still touch it, made goose bumps rise on his arms.

The air closed in; the room tilted.

People die.

Even someone whose voice you can hear when she's not there, can die.

Whose towel you can tell by the smell of her sweat.

Whose socks you have stolen out of her drawer.

Whose sandwiches you have shared.

People die.

Sisters die.

His sister was dead.

He took a stumbling step backward, as if a wave had knocked him loose from the only patch of firm ground beneath his feet. Tyler felt as if he were being pulled out to a vast, cold, and dark ocean from which he might never return. He tried to hold on. He tried to resist but couldn't.


Excerpted from Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson. Copyright © 2009 Jill Wolfson. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

JILL WOLFSON is the author of the highly acclaimed novels What I Call Life and Home, and Other Big, Fat Lies. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.

Jill Wolfson is the author of the novel What I Call Life. Her writing has also appeared in Salon and the San Jose Mercury News. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.

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Cold Hands, Warm Heart 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cold Hands, Warm Heart By Jill Wolfson Pub. Date: March 2009 4 out of 5 stars PG-13 Profanity and Sexual References Recommended Dani needs a heart.soon. Amanda has one. Dani was born with a weak heart on the wrong side of her body. She has gone through surgery after surgery, hospital after hospital, and pills after pills. Yet nothing has helped. Now at the age of 15, her life is coming to an end. She has never gone to a dance, never had a boyfriend, never snuck out late, never played sports. never lived. As a perfect transplant candidate, Dani is at the top of the list. But first, someone needs to die. Amanda is the quintessential daughter. She is athletic, smart, pretty, responsible, and confident. But one accident is going to ruin everything. Neither of them have met, but tragedy is going to bring them together. Cold Hands, Warm Heart was exceptionally written with very well-rounded scenes. The use of all the senses in descriptions drew me in and wholly impressed me. Every angle of this story was realistic. This book resembled a collection of multiple biographies, set in present tense. The switching of perspective from one character to the next was smooth and enhanced the character's plausibility. Cold Hands, Warm Heart is not to be looked at as an emotional book only for PMSers, but as a realistic example of modern children who deal with fear and hope on a daily basis. Date Reviewed: May 5th, 2009 For more book reviews and book information check out my blog at www.inthecurrent.blogspot.com
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy to read book. Very interesting. Recommen it to anyone wholoves to read aout friendships, and passion. Great book overall.
reader101MG More than 1 year ago
It has a tough start, but after about 50 pages you start getting teary eyed. The author must have done extensive research. I came across this book for a summer reading list, and although one of the saddest books, one of the best. If you are any age probably 12 or up for age appropriate junk, but just looking for a good story this book will be good for you. The plot and story seemed so moving I can't explain how much. I usually don't base books by author just the story, but in all... AMAZING STORY.
bookaholic123 More than 1 year ago
Cold Hands, Warm Heart is a touching book about a girl, Dani, who receives a new heart from Amanda, a recently deceased gymnast. This book touches the subjects of losing someone close, friendship (in a hospital) and lives being changed. Some parts of this book were inappropriate, and I found that swear words were not scarce, which took away from the book, for me. This book is probably best for middle school students.
RobFromPhilly More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book. I always love novels that find a facile way to teach you about something and Jill does a wonderful job exploring a complex and compelling subject from many points of view(something I also like very much). I defy anyone to read this book and not find themselves pondering the issues raised for days on end. Jill reminds us all, as J Donne says, "we are involved in humanity."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The girl in In A Heartbeat is 14 and her name is Amilia. Similer to Amanda who is also 14. Crazy huh?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Luv the book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book. Not a grabber but i would suggest it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was wondering if it is atrue story?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My friends sister had her heart on the wrong side and died at 3 months. I didnt read the book tho