Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time stepmom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be?
At thirteen, Ava Hansen is mature beyond her years. Since her parents’ divorce, she has been taking care of her emotionally unstable mother and her little brother—she pays the bills, does the laundry, and never complains because she loves her mama more than anyone. And while her father’s new girlfriend is nice enough, Ava still holds out hope that her parents will get back together and that they’ll be a family again. But only days after Victor and Grace get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances—and soon, Grace and Ava discover that there was much more to Kelli’s life than either ever knew.
Narrated by Grace and Ava in the present with flashbacks into Kelli’s troubled past, Heart Like Mine is a poignant, hopeful portrait of womanhood, love, and the challenges and joys of family life.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
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Heart Like Mine
After Dad moved out, Saturday mornings were the hardest. Saturdays used to be when he didn’t have to get up early and head to the restaurant; Saturdays were when he woke us with the buttery smell of his special homemade vanilla-bean waffles toasting on the griddle and smoky bacon sizzling on the stove. I loved to lie in my bed, breathing in the tendrils of those familiar scents, feeling them wrap around me, warm and comforting as my father’s arms.
“Breakfast, kiddos!” he bellowed when it was ready. “Come and get it while it’s hot!”
Max would scamper down the hallway to beat me to the table, but I stayed in bed with a small, secret smile on my face, knowing exactly what was coming next. My bedroom door was flung open, and Daddy would stomp over to me. “Is there a sleepy little girl in here?” he asked in a teasing, slightly maniacal voice. “Does she need to be tickled to wake up?”
“No!” I’d squeal, my smile growing wider, scrunching myself up against the wall, pretending to try to get away from him.
“Oh, yes!” Dad said, holding his hands out in front of him and wiggling his fingers like crazy.
“Daddy, no!” I said again, but inside I was thinking, Oh, yes!
“It’s time to get uh-up!” he said, and then it would come, the dive-bomb of his fingertips to my sides, and I couldn’t help but shriek, giggling and laughing and writhing around beneath his touch. “Are you awake yet?” he asked, rubbing the short stubble of his beard against my neck to tickle me more. “Are you ready to come have breakfast?”
“Yes!” I yelled, smiling so wide it almost hurt my cheeks. “Okay! I’m coming!”
Dad kissed my cheek and pulled his hands away from my body. “All right then,” he said. “Let’s eat!”
Now that he was gone, now that Mama had asked him to leave, Saturday mornings were quiet, empty of any happy laughter. For breakfast we had cereal or toast, and most of the time, I ended up going into Mama’s room to wake her up so we wouldn’t be late for Max’s soccer games. Just last week, she had forgotten that we were in charge of bringing the snack, and instead of just stopping at the store to buy something like any of the other moms probably would have, she’d rushed to bake a batch of cupcakes before we could leave.
“Yoo-hoo!” she had singsonged as we finally made our way to the field where Max’s game was about to get under way. “Sorry we’re late!”
He’d missed warm-up, but as I carefully balanced the carrying case filled with the chocolate cupcakes, Max raced past us to get to where his coach was picking the starting lineup. The mothers of Max’s teammates barely turned to acknowledge Mama’s greeting. They sat together on the bleachers with heavy plaid blankets over their laps, chattering and laughing at something one of them had said. A group of men stood nearby, laughing and shaking each other’s hands; a few of them shouted encouragement to Max and his teammates. Daddy used to stand with those men, talking and laughing, before he moved out. Now he only came to Max’s games on the Saturdays we were with him.
I set the carrying case on the table next to the cooler full of water bottles and watched as Mama tried again. She fluffed her hair and put on her best, brightest smile. “Hey there,” she said as she walked over to stand next to the group. “Beautiful weather for a game, isn’t it?” It was a cold, crisp fall day.
A heavyset woman with black, straight hair turned her head and gave Mama a false smile in return. “Yes,” she said, as though stating something incredibly obvious. “It is.”
“How’s the other team looking this morning?” Mama asked, shoving her hands into the side pockets of her fitted black leather jacket. The other moms wore Columbia fleece pullovers or earthy-toned wool sweaters. Mama chose tight Levi’s and over-the-knee black boots to match her jacket; the other women had on rain boots or closed-toed Birkenstocks. “Our babies are going to show ’em who’s boss, right?”
No one answered her. Instead, a few of them covered their mouths and stifled coughs. Mama’s chin trembled just the tiniest bit before she sat down on the bottom bleacher and tucked her tiny hands between her legs. I joined her, and she put her arm around me, hugging me to her. I wanted to tell her not to worry—that she was prettier than all those other women. Nicer, too. But I didn’t know if I should. If it was good for her to know that I could see the sadness in her eyes when she looked at them—the longing to be made a part of their group. Mama and I were alike that way. She had Diane and I had my best friend, Bree, but that was pretty much it. She looked at those women like I looked at the popular girls at school. Like, Please, just give me a chance.
One of the fathers noticed Mama sitting on the edge of the bleachers. He was tall and barrel chested, with sandy blond hair and a goatee. He made a comment under his breath to the other men, and a few of them snickered in response. He walked over to us, propped his foot up on the edge of the bleacher right next to Mama’s leg, and leaned on his thigh with his forearm. “Hey, Kelli,” he said. “How are you?” His words were slick, as though coated in oil as they slid from his mouth.
Mama gave him a sparkling smile. “Well, I’m just fine, thank you very much.” Her voice was bubbly, practically dripping with enthusiasm. “How are you?”
“Better now,” he said with a wink, and my stomach clenched. I was pretty sure he was Carter’s dad, and the husband of the black-haired, heavy woman, who I only knew as “Carter’s mom.” I didn’t like the way he was looking at Mama. I didn’t like how hairy his knuckles were, either.
“Honey,” Carter’s mom called out, noticing her husband talking to us. “Are you watching the game?”
“Carter’s not even on the field yet,” he said sharply, giving her a hard look. Then he turned his gaze back to Mama, softening it. “I feel like I haven’t seen you around much. I was sorry to hear about you and Victor. You two always seemed so happy.”
Mama kept her smile bright, but I saw the flash of grief in her eyes. Even after all of this time, she still seemed to miss him. A few weeks ago, she had accidentally set a place for him at the dinner table. “I guess things aren’t always as they seem,” she said to Carter’s father now.
“I guess not,” he said with a chuckle. He glanced toward the parking lot. “Is Victor coming today?”
Mama shook her head. “He wanted to, but he’s working. He’ll be here next week, for sure. It’s his weekend with the kids.” He wanted to? If that was true, it was news to me. I wondered if Mama made that up.
Carter’s dad leaned down, closer to Mama. “And what about you?” he almost whispered. “Will you be here?”
“Mike!” Carter’s mom said loudly. “Can you please get me another blanket from the car? It’s colder than I thought out here.”
Carter’s dad straightened, put both feet back on the ground, and winked at Mama before he looked up at his wife. “Sure thing,” he said flatly. He let his fingers brush against Mama’s arm as he walked past her, and I saw Mama shrink back.
“He’s gross,” I whispered to Mama, and she turned her head, her lips pursed.
“You hush, now. That’s impolite.”
“So was he!” I said, maybe a little too loudly.
Mama drew her eyebrows together over the bridge of her nose. “Ava. Watch your mouth. You’re too young to be talking like that about a grown-up.” She straightened in her seat and then cupped her hands around her mouth. “Go on now, Max!” she hollered as the team ran onto the field. “Push ’em back, push ’em back, waaay back!” She jumped up, shimmied her bent arms, and wiggled her tiny behind.
“Mama,” I said, cringing a bit as the other women behind us stopped talking and stared. Acting like that would just make the other mothers make fun of her—didn’t she know that?
“I think that’s a football cheer, Kelli,” Carter’s mom said, and then I saw her roll her eyes. I gritted my teeth, wishing I had something to throw at her. Something sharp and hard that would hurt.
Mama laughed and gave a little shrug. “Oh well,” she said, sitting back down. “I never could keep my sports straight. I guess it’s a good thing Max is playing and not me.”
“Oh yes,” another woman said. “What a relief.” She had brown hair and a tightly pinched mouth. “Did you remember to bring snacks?”
Mama turned to look at her and nodded. “Chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, fresh out of the oven this morning.” She grinned, awaiting approval. I held my breath.
The brown-haired woman frowned. “Peanut butter? We can’t serve that. Taylor is allergic.” She paused. “And Carter is gluten intolerant. Wheat flour is like poison for him. Didn’t you review the approved snack list we handed out at the beginning of the season?”
Mama’s smile melted away. “Oh,” she began, her voice faltering. “No. I didn’t realize—”
Carter’s mom sighed and stood up. “I can run to the co-op and grab some rice crackers and fruit,” she said.
Mama stood, as well. “Please,” she said, “let me. It was my mistake.”
“It’s fine,” the woman said as she grabbed her purse. “I’ll just go catch my husband at the car. We’ll go together.”
Mama sank back down onto the bleacher, her shoulders slumped. “I’m so sorry,” she said to the other women. “I can bring a better snack the next time.”
No one responded, and Mama turned away and faced the field. Her eyes were shiny and she held her chin high. I slipped my hand into hers and squeezed it. “I love your cupcakes,” I said. “They’re the best ones.”
This morning we were running late again. Except this time it was my fault—I’d spent too much time in the shower, conditioning my hair and carefully shaving my legs. Mama said the hair wasn’t thick enough for me to need to shave yet, but all the other girls in eighth grade did it, so I begged her to let me do it, too. “They call me Chewbacca during gym!” I told her, and she’d relented.
“Ava, hurry up, please!” Mama called out from the kitchen.
“Be right there!” I said, glancing in the full-length mirror on my closet door one last time, making sure that the outfit I’d picked out looked okay. I liked my long, purple shirt and I knew I was luckier than a lot of girls in my class; I could wear skinny jeans and still cross my legs beneath my desk. My dark brown hair was held back from my face with a thin elastic headband, and thanks to the expensive salon conditioner I’d saved up my allowance to buy, it looked shiny and smooth. Still, I found myself wishing for the millionth time that my mom would let me wear makeup. The few times I’d tried to sneak it, using my friend Bree’s mascara and lipstick in the bathroom at school, Mama had caught me, even though I thought I’d washed it all off. “You’re a natural beauty, love,” she said, cupping my face in her hands. “Let’s save the makeup for when you actually need it.”
I didn’t know why she got to be the one who decided when I needed it. It was my face. Plus, almost all the other eighth-grade girls at Seattle Academy wore makeup; I was fairly certain that meant I should get to, too. But I’d had enough arguments with her about it to understand this wasn’t a fight I was going to win.
Sighing, I grabbed her black boots, the ones she said I could borrow, pulled them on over my jeans, then lugged my heavy backpack down the hall. Mama stood by the kitchen counter, still in her pajamas, which consisted of gray yoga pants and a red T-shirt that looked tiny enough that it might have actually been my brother’s. From the back, she looked like a little girl. Her blond hair was pulled into a messy ponytail and she gripped a coffee mug with both hands, sipping from it as she stared out the window into the backyard. It was still dark, but at least it wasn’t raining. “I’m ready,” I announced.
She turned to look at me with a tired smile, and I noticed that her lips were the same pale hue as her skin, and the spaces beneath her eyes were tinged blue. For the fourth time that week, I’d woken up to the sound of the television in her bedroom in the middle of the night. She still wasn’t sleeping. “Hey there, sugar,” she said. “You’re as pretty as dew on a rose.”
I rolled my eyes a little and shook my head but smiled back at her anyway, accustomed to her flowery comparisons. She was prone to silly compliments about my looks. I didn’t really feel pretty; I was okay, I guessed, but nothing like my mom, who my friend Peter told me all the boys in my class thought was a MILF because she was blond and thin and had big boobs. I’d nodded, even though I hadn’t known what the term meant at that time, so it wasn’t until I got home and looked it up online that I wanted to barf. I knew my mom was better looking than some of my friends’ mothers, but the thought of the boys wanting to have sex with her made me cringe.
“Do you want breakfast?” Mama asked. “I made some toast. I could throw peanut butter on it so you’d get some protein.”
I shook my head. She knew I didn’t like to eat first thing in the morning, but that didn’t stop her from trying to feed me. “I can have a granola bar after homeroom.” I patted my backpack to let her know I was all set. “Are you working today?” Her job was at a fancy restaurant downtown, the place my dad used to manage before he started his own restaurant. They had met there, and she had to go back to work after he moved out three years ago. She said she liked her job because it was flexible enough that she could drive us to school in the morning and pick us up. She only worked night shifts the weekends we were with our dad.
She shook her head. “Nope. But I took a double shift tomorrow, since you two won’t be here. I’m working Sunday brunch, too.” She gave me an empty, halfhearted smile then, like she always did when she knew Max and I would be gone for the weekend.
“I’ll have her toast!” Max said, piping up from the table, where he was slurping down the last of the milk from his cereal bowl.
“Do you ever stop eating?” I asked, wrinkling my nose at him. “It’s gross.”
“You’re gross,” Max retorted, lifting his pointy chin back at me.
“Oooh, burn,” I said, rolling my eyes again. He was such a little dweeb. I looked at the clock and then my mom. “Can we go? I don’t want to be late for homeroom.”
“Yes, we should.” She shuffled over to me in her slippers and threw her slender arms around my neck. When I was wearing her boots, we were almost the same height. “I love you, baby girl,” she whispered. “So much.”
“Love you too,” I said, hugging her back. She felt fragile in my embrace, her bones like brittle twigs that might snap if I held her too tightly. She was getting so skinny; I could circle her entire wrist with my index finger and thumb and still not touch her skin. She said she ate at the restaurant after her shifts, but her clothes had started looking looser the past few months, so I wasn’t sure she was telling me the truth. She’d done the same thing after my dad moved out—no sleep and no food—but Diane made her go to the doctor for some kind of pills and she started getting better after that. I wasn’t sure if she was taking those pills anymore.
I wondered if missing her parents had anything to do with how she was feeling now. She had called them last night, but they didn’t answer the phone. They lived in a small town outside of San Luis Obispo in California, where Mama grew up, and they’d never even once come to see us, which I honestly thought was kind of strange, considering they were Mama’s only family and Max and I were their grandchildren. I guess they didn’t even think they could have a baby, but Mama was born when her mother was forty-two and Mama said they thanked God and called her their “miracle.” And even though they never visited, she still called their house a couple of times a year. When they actually answered the phone, the conversations were always short and her voice got tight and shaky as she spoke with them. Afterward, she’d usually go to her bedroom and cry. I tried not to worry about Mama too much, but she sure didn’t make it easy.
I looked over to Max, who was making fun of my hugging our mom with a goofy kissy face and pretending to hug himself. “Max,” I said sternly, “go brush your teeth. We’ll be in the car.”
“You’re not the boss of me,” Max said as he dropped his bowl into the sink with a clatter. My mother startled at the noise, sucking in a sharp breath, and pulled away from me.
“Max!” she said loudly, then took another, slower breath. She put one hand against the wall, like she suddenly had to hold herself up, then spoke again in a quieter tone. “Brush your teeth, little man, right this instant. Don’t make me get the switch.” She winked at him then, and he giggled, knowing full well our mother would never hit us. It was a joke she used, to let us know she meant business. Our dad used to say it to us, too, as a joke, but after he moved out, he stopped.
Max raced down the hallway to the bathroom and my mother stared off after him.
“Are you okay, Mama?” I asked, noticing she was breathing a little faster than usual. She kept her hand on the wall, her shoulders curled forward.
“I’m fine. Just a little dizzy, for some reason.” She turned her head and gave me a tiny smile, dropping her hand to her side and straightening her spine. “Probably too much caffeine.”
I nodded, then looked at the stack of paper on the entryway table—bills, I guessed. Ones she hadn’t paid yet. “Want me to help you write the checks tonight?” I asked as we headed out the door and toward the driveway.
“Hmm?” she murmured. “What was that?”
I felt a twinge of irritation. “The bills.” I knew my friends didn’t help their parents with this kind of thing, but it was something we did together. Mama said it was only because I had better handwriting than hers, but the last time I’d watched her try to do it alone, she started crying, so I offered to fill the checks out and she could just sign them. Max got to put the stamps on the envelopes. We sort of turned it into a game. But when I told my dad about it, the muscles around his lips got all twitchy, and I asked him if it was bad that we helped her.
“She’s a grown-up, honey,” he said, putting his long arm around my shoulders and squeezing me to him. “You’re a kid. You shouldn’t have that kind of responsibility.”
I shrugged and threw both of my arms around his waist, breathing in the earthy fragrance of roasted meat off his shirt. Some fathers wore cologne; mine wore scents born in a kitchen. “I don’t mind,” I said. I didn’t like feeling that he was criticizing her; I didn’t want to get her in trouble.
“I’ll talk with her,” he said, but I don’t think he ever did. Now that they were divorced, they only talked to each other when they had to, and when they did, it was with short, hard sentences that seemed more like weapons than words.
“When are you bringing them back?” Mama asked him when he picked us up every other Saturday. She never did quite look directly at him, either. Her eyes drifted just over his right shoulder.
“Five o’clock tomorrow,” my dad told her, sometimes even shifting his feet a little, like he couldn’t wait for her to stop moving her mouth. “Like always.” He stood in the entryway, not coming all the way into the house while we got ready to go with him.
“Just making sure,” my mom would say, her voice quavering a little, and the muscles in my dad’s face would tighten even more. It was hard to imagine they ever loved each other enough to get married. I knew they had; I’d seen their wedding picture. Mama dressed in a white princess ball gown, her glossy hair piled on top of her head in messy coils. Daddy tall and handsome in a black tuxedo, feeding her cake and trying to kiss her at the same time. They were laughing.
Now, standing next to our car, as Max finally sped down the front steps and toward us, making a sound like a jet airplane, my mom reached over and clutched my hand. “What would I do without you, baby girl?” She pulled my hand up to her mouth and kissed it.
I smiled at her, my insides shaking, not wanting to say that I sometimes wondered what she might do without me, too.
* * *
“Do you have to go to your dad’s this weekend?” Bree asked me during second lunch. At Seattle Academy, first lunch was for the kids up through fifth grade; second was for sixth through eighth. Bree and I sat together at a small table by the window, away from the other eighth-grade girls. We each had a big slice of pepperoni pizza and a chocolate milk. That was the best thing about going to a private school—the hot lunches were actually decent. The worst thing was that my brother went there, too. Occasionally, he’d see me in the hallway or when he had recess and he’d wave, do a little dance, and start singing, “Ava-Ava-bo-bava, banana-fanna-fo-fava . . . Ava!” I seriously couldn’t wait for next year, when high school would start and I wouldn’t see that little weirdo until we got home. I loved him and all, but man, could he annoy the crap out of me.
I pulled a piece of pepperoni off the slice and popped it in my mouth. “Yep,” I told Bree as I chewed. “Our dad picks us up tomorrow morning.”
“With Grace?” she said, crossing her eyes and making her lids flutter at the same time. Bree was the funniest girl I knew and wasn’t afraid of other people laughing at the things she did, which was part of why she was my friend. She had short, wispy blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses, and she didn’t need to wear a bra yet, but she didn’t seem to care about being like the popular girls. The girls with really rich parents and their own iPads. The girls who went behind the gym, let their boyfriends feel them up, and didn’t care who knew. The girls that part of me wanted to become.
I laughed. “Yes. I keep hoping they’ll split up. But it looks like she’s staying.” Bree’s parents were divorced, too, another reason I liked to hang out with her. She got how weird it was to have two houses to live in, two sets of rules, and parents that might have loved us but couldn’t stand each other. Her dad was a corporate lawyer, so he had to pay her mom a ton of child support for Bree. My dad gave my mom a check every month, too, but he definitely didn’t make as much money as a lawyer. He was a great cook, though, which I thought was kind of a bonus.
Bree didn’t say anything more, knowing that my dad’s girlfriend was far from my favorite subject. He had met Grace at the end of last summer and waited a couple of months to introduce us, which I guess is better than if he’d made us meet her right away. I knew he’d probably dated other women after he moved out—one time, not very long after he bought his new place, I found a pair of lacy pink women’s underwear in his hamper when I was helping him with the laundry. But Grace was the only one he wanted Max and me to get to know, so the fact that she had moved in with him last May didn’t really surprise me that much. Mostly, I just tried not to think about the fact that she slept in the same bed as him, which was hard with how many questions my mom asked when we came home from their house.
“Did you have fun with Grace?” she’d ask. “What did she feed you?” When I’d tell her that after Dad cooked, or Grace ordered pizza, we all played Scrabble or watched a movie, her shoulders would fall and her face would look like I’d hit her. I wondered why she didn’t get her own boyfriend. She was pretty enough, for sure, and I knew there were a few single dads at our school who would probably ask her out if she did her hair and wore something other than her pajamas to drop us off in the morning. But when I suggested that maybe she could go on a date, too, she waved the thought away. “You and your brother are all the love I need. Your daddy just doesn’t like to be alone.” Neither do you, I’d think. You just want to be with us instead of a date. I wondered if something was wrong with her, somehow, since after all these years she still didn’t seem to be over my dad’s leaving. Which was strange, really, because I knew that she was the one who finally asked him to go. I’d overheard the fight that made him walk out the door.
“Yo, earth to Ava!” Bree said, nudging me with the toe of her Converse. “Come in, Ava! The bell just rang. Time for social studies.” She made a face and stuck a finger in her mouth. “Like, gag me with an encyclopedia.”
I laughed again, and we cleaned up our mess and headed off to class. On the way, Whitney Blake, whose father owned a chain of organic grocery stores, sidled up next to me. She smelled of citrus and her black hair hung sleek and almost to the middle of her back. Whitney was all sweetness and light to our teachers, but she’d been known to make more than a few other girls in our class cry. I tried not to cross her path unless I absolutely had to.
“How was your lunch, Ava?” she asked, popping her pink gum as she spoke. Whitney liked everyone to know that their family’s housekeeper packed organic chicken slices, mixed greens, and some kind of cookie made with agave nectar for her lunch every day, only so Whitney could toss it all and buy whatever the cafeteria was serving with the credit card her dad gave her to use.
I shrugged one shoulder in response and kept walking, glancing at her out of the corner of my eye, wary of such a seemingly innocent question.
“Did you use your scholarship to pay for it?” she continued in a lilting tone as we walked along, pushing against the small throng of other students in the hallway. “You know, my dad gives a lot of our money to those. So, like, my family’s sort of making it possible for you to be here.”
My stomach clenched as she spoke, my cheeks flushed, and tears pricked the back of my throat. I couldn’t look at her. It wasn’t a secret that Max and I were scholarship students and that my mom sometimes served meals to the rich parents of the kids in our classes when they went to the restaurant where she worked. Max was too little to understand what people sometimes said about us, but I wasn’t. I also understood that having a lot of money didn’t just give you nice things, it gave you power. Whitney understood this, too.
“Maybe you should say thank you,” Whitney said when I didn’t respond.
I couldn’t speak. If I did, I might have cried, and that would just have given her another thing to mock.
“Hey, Whitney,” Bree said, stepping in to save me. “Maybe you should go make yourself useful and throw up your lunch. If you hurry, maybe your ass won’t need its own zip code.”
Hearing this, Whitney’s normally pretty, unblemished face briefly twisted into an ugly sneer, but she kept her eyes on me. “You should think about trying out for the dance team,” she said. “Maybe Mrs. McClain will feel sorry for you as an underprivileged student and let you join.”
Her gaggle of friends tittered at this, my eyes blurred, and Bree grabbed me by the arm. “C’mon. Let’s get to class.”
Leaving Whitney and her friends behind us, I let Bree lead me past the few remaining lockers before Mr. Tanner’s room, swallowing hard to make sure any remnants of my tears were gone. “Thanks,” I said as we slid into our seats next to each other.
Bree smiled, then pushed her glasses back up to the bridge of her nose. “She’s a total bitch, so don’t listen to her, all right?”
I nodded but still felt the sting of Whitney’s words itching beneath my skin. It wasn’t like we were poor; my parents paid for some of our tuition, just not all of it. The one thing my mom and dad still agreed on was Max and me getting the best education we could, and Seattle Academy was the best.
“You’re not going to try out for dance team, are you?” Bree asked.
I shook my head and gave her a closed-lipped smile. My mom loved to dance—she’d been a cheerleader in high school, and it would have made her happy if I did try out, but I knew that getting on the team would mean I’d be away from the house more and Max would have to deal with Mama on his own. He was too young to handle one of her crying sessions when I wasn’t there. Even if I’d wanted to join, it just wasn’t an option.
I took a couple of deep breaths, the tension in my body relaxing just enough to let me pay attention when Mr. Tanner told us to settle down and began his lecture on women’s suffrage. He had only been talking for about twenty minutes when the black phone on his desk rang. He nodded as he listened, thanked whoever had called, and hung up. Only the front office used that phone, so I wondered who had done something bad enough to interrupt class.
“Ava?” Mr. Tanner said, and my belly immediately flip-flopped. “You need to get your things from your locker and head to the office, okay?”
I sighed. “Is it Max?” That little monster. Mama’s going to be pissed if he got in trouble.
Mr. Tanner pressed his lips together and gave his head a quick shake. Bree shot me a questioning look, and I shrugged slightly, then closed up my folder. Every eye in the room was on me, and I felt my face getting warm again. A few whispers started, but Mr. Tanner shushed them. I slowly put on my jacket and took careful, deliberate steps toward the front of the room. I stopped in front of Mr. Tanner’s desk, searching his face for some kind of clue, but there was nothing there. “Is everything all right?” I asked him, and he held my gaze for a moment before dropping it to the floor.
“You just need to go to the office,” he repeated, so I walked out the door and made my way alone down the long, quiet hall.
What People are Saying About This
“I was transfixed by Cadence and her heart-wrenching dilemma. The writing is visceral, the problems are real, and there are no clear solutions. You won’t want to put it down.”
“Like a gorgeous dark jewel, Hatvany’s novel explores the tragedy of a mind gone awry, a tangled bond of father and daughter, and the way hope and love sustain us. It does what the best fiction does: it makes us see and experience the world differently.”
“I’m telling everyone about Best Kept Secret. It’s the realistic and ultimately hopeful story of Cadence, whose glass of wine at the end of the day becomes two…then…three…then a bottle. I love that Cadence feels so familiar, she could be my neighbor, my friend, or even my sister.”
"A heartfelt, moving story about the lasting effects of grief amidst family bonds and breakups, and the healing powers of love, honesty, and acceptance. Hatvany writes with such wise compassion for every one of her characters.
"Heart Like Mine fearlessly explores men and women desperate to measure up to the rigors of parenthood, but still failing their children. Hatvany bring sympathy and compassion to the page, while never losing sight of the damage children suffer when their parents make bad decisions.
"Beautiful and deeply moving, Amy Hatvany writes about the tangled web of family in a way that makes you laugh, cry, cheer and ache. This book has so much heart.
"By turns gripping and revelatory, Heart Like Mine is a sympathetic exploration of blended family dynamics. In her affecting new novel, Amy Hatvany pulls no punches; her characters grapple with life's big moments—marriage, parenthood, death—but she renders each of them with compassion and understanding. Heart Like Mine tells an honest, hopeful story that resonates in all the best ways.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Heart Like Mine includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Consider the two epigraphs that Hatvany opens the novel with. How do they frame the novel? How do you interpret the title, Heart Like Mine, in relation to these two quotations?
2. On the surface, Kelli and Grace are very different characters. What do they share? How do their upbringings shape the kind of women they become?
3. Heart Like Mine is narrated by the three women in Victor’s life—but we never hear from him directly. As a group, discuss your impressions of Victor. How does each narrator present a different side of him?
4. While family dynamics are at the heart of this novel, friendships are also integral to these characters’ lives. Discuss the role of female friendship. What do Kelli, Grace, and Ava each get from a friend that they can’t get from a significant other or a family member? How do you experience this in your own life?
5. How are mothers and fathers portrayed differently in the novel? What do you think the author is saying about the significance of each parental figure in a child’s life?
6. Shortly after Kelli dies, Grace admits, “However much I loved Victor and worried for Max and Ava, I wasn’t sure I could go through this without losing myself completely.” Could you empathize with her in this moment? Did you agree with her when she later concluded, “It didn’t matter whether I felt ready or not”?
7. Discuss the ways that Max expresses his grief over losing his mom. How do they differ from the ways that Ava shows her sadness? What methods does each child use to try to cope with Kelli’s death?
8. A pivotal moment in the novel occurs on page 87, when Victor asks Grace to leave the room before he tells Max and Ava that their mother died. Did you think this was the right thing for him to do for his children? Why or why not?
9. Consider Grace’s coworker’s comment about how having children changes you: “But you really don’t know what love is until you’re a mother. You can’t understand it until you’ve had a baby yourself, but it’s the most intense feeling in the world” (page 109). Do you agree with this? Do you think Grace comes to share this belief?
10. On page 67, Ava thinks, “I also thought it was weird that Mama was always telling me how pretty I was, but then practically in the next breath, she insisted being smart was more important.” Based on what you learned about Kelli’s past over the course of the novel, how can you explain this apparent contradiction?
11. How does Ava’s relationship with her father change after Kelli’s death? What did you think about her comment on page 295 that, “I didn’t want him to think I was like Mama. I wanted him to believe I was stronger than that”?
12. Ava recalls her parents fighting about how much Victor was working at the restaurant. Did you side with either Kelli or Victor while you were reading these scenes?
13. Do you believe that maternal instincts are innate, or do you think that they are acquired? What do you think the novel is saying about the ways that mothering is either a learned skill or a natural ability?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Amy Hatvany is the author of three other novels: Best Kept Secret, Outside the Lines, and The Language of Sisters. Consider reading one of these titles as a group, and then compare and contrast the ways that Hatvany represents family in each book.
2. Choose one of the novel’s narrators, and pick a scene that you think captures their unique perspective. Now, attempt to rewrite the scene—this time, from a different character’s point of view.
3. Some of Ava’s favorite memories of Kelli involve cooking, and preparing a favorite recipe is one of the ways that Ava and Grace begin to bond. For your next meeting, have every member bring in a recipe that has significance to them and tell the story behind it. You might even make copies of each recipe so that every member leaves with a collection of new recipes to try.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wow! Amy Hatvany has just been added to my favorite author list! I love her writing style and cannot wait to start on her other books (I have ordered them all) and will pre-order her new one “Safe with Me – coming 2014 included as a sneak peak at the end of Heart Like Mine (already has me hooked). I am so thankful you wrote this book – I could so relate with Grace, as I was in the stepmother role (and it is not an easy task) – it makes you want to run back to your independent life without all the drama. I had two sons of my own and met a man with 3 sons – his all had dyslexia (all five boys from age 7-15) – boy, do you have to be thick skinned – there is always some sort of fighting, manipulating, other mother involved, power struggles, etc…and then to find they all want to come and live with you – it can be very overwhelming at times. It means a lot to have the husband’s support, sometimes Victor was not supporting Grace (so admire her for hanging in there). Both Grace and Kelli had similar backgrounds and was unable to live their childhood/teen years as a normal teen; however, Kelli and Grace turned out differently. Kelli was very weak and needy and looked to others to provide her happiness instead of creating her own. Amy did an outstanding job of speaking from Ava, Kelli, and Grace’s perspective and voice-- loved how she seamlessly tied it all together. It was brilliantly written (wish list) – Would love to see sequel in tracking down Kelli’s child, the new relationship between sisters and brothers, and possibly Grace/Victor with a child of their own, and more from Spencer/Melody – (this could fill at least another two books). Hey, I would buy them! Highly recommend this book and so look forward to reading more from this author. Her insight into the pitfalls of step parenting are so realistic, as I speak from experience. I tend to read the new ones first which hooks me on the author, and then I want to dive into everything they have written. Have read so many great reviews about Amy and lots of praise from my other favorite authors about her work. Great reading!! She speaks to the heart and does not miss a beat.
I read this blurb and KNEW I had to read this! "When a young mother dies under mysterious circumstances, those she leaves behind begin looking for answers in the past—and find a long-buried secret they could have never imagined. Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time stepmom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be?"...Okay, how many of you are shaking your heads at that thought???? Told between the POVs of Ava and Grace, one sees how much these two actually have in common, regardless of their differences on the outside. Grace truly was clueless as to the requirements of being a new addition to the splintered Hansen family. When Kelli died suddenly, even though she was an unstable parent, almost more of a child, Grace is forced to step up and try to carefully field her way through the emotional landmines all around her. Her biggest obstacle to overcome was thirteen year old Ava who is caught up in the grief of losing her mother, the hormones of growing up, and a need to know about her mother's dark past and find out why her mother had lied to her about so many things. Victor was a good father, just too consumed with his business and seemed to dump so much more than Grace bargained for onto her shoulders. As Grace tried to reach out to Ava, Ava pulled farther away, resenting the fact that Grace was alive and her mother wasn't. What will happen when Kelli's true past finally unfolds? Can Grace and Victor's relationship survive? Can Grace breach Ava's barriers? This is an amazing story, well-told and filled with emotion and depth. By taking a contemporary issue such as divorce and its aftermath, exploding into the death of a parent and the secrets they leave behind, the author has created a book that will stay with me for a long time! I highly recommend this book! This ARC copy was provided by NetGalley and Washington Square Press in exchange for my honest review. Publication date: March 19, 2013
This was really a 3.5 star book (I really wish B&N let you do 1/2 stars). I really enjoyed this book. It wasn't really earth shattering or unpredictable, but it was the kind of story that just stayed with you, long after you put the book down. This was my first book by Hatvany, and I will definitely be reading more.
I enjoyed reading this book. It was my first from this author and I definately will read more of her work. Her characters came alive to me and I truly cared what happened to them all as they worked through their problems. It was a good read about life and family one that I recommend.
Reviewed by Aubrey Book provided by NetGalley for review Review originally posted at Romancing the Book I really enjoyed this novel. It was written in a much different format than most novels I’ve read. It was told from the point of Grace and Ava in the present and from Kelli from the past. Grace is a single woman without any kids who gets engaged to Victor who has two kids from a previous marriage to Kelli. Grace does not know if she could be a mother. She loves her independence and her career. That all changes when Kelli is found dead and Grace is now a full-time step-mother to Victor’s two kids. Victor is a good father but also has to find his way into full-time fatherhood. I really liked Victor and how he was able to get through his problems without get super angry. Victor knew what he wanted with Grace and tried his best to get that relationship. Ava was your typical teenager forced to grow up way too soon. First because of her parents divorce and second because of the death of her mother. She was more of a mother to Kellie than Kelli was to her. It was very believable going back and forth between Grace, Ava and Kelli’s point of views. You could see how Grace and Ava grew in their relationships with each other as well as individually. I will be on the look out for more books by Amy Hatvany.
This is an absolutely wonderful book. The honesty and compassion Hatvany writes with shine through. The struggles and emotions of the characters can almost be felt as you are reading. This makes them more real and easier to connect with. The story is written in the point of view of Grace and Ava with Kelli’s story interwoven expertly throughout the story. Their individual perspectives gave the story such depth. Their journey to acceptance is a rich experience. This is the second Hatvany book I have read. I love the stories she holds in her heart and shares with us. She tackles difficult subjects with grace and courage. I highly recommend this book to everyone who enjoys excellent books. My overall rating is 4.5 stars.
I could not put down, the story felt so real. I don’t know what to write in this review. Only that it is going to be a book that I will remember reading and I will know Grace, Ava and Kelli's story it will stay with me. Some books you will remember a long time after reading and others you can look at and think I read this book but you won’t remember a thing. Well this is a book that will stick with you for a while. It’s a beautifully written story about depression, grief, love, mother - daughter relationship, stepmother- daughter relationship. I truly enjoyed this book. Very good would highly recommend
Grace McAllister is happy with her childless life. She meets Victor Hansen, a divorced restaurant owner, while she's on a date with an obnoxious guy whom she met online. Victor helps Grace get rid of this guy and the two end up dating. While Grace hesitates to get close to Victor because he has two children, Ava and Max, she doesn't mind the situation because Victor only has the kids every other weekend. Eventually, the two get engaged and plan to tell the kids but before they can, Kelli, Victor's ex-wife, dies. Can Grace and Victor make things work or is their relationship doomed? I really enjoyed this story and how the author broke it down from 3 different points of view. It brings out the emotions of each character and how each deals with loss. This is a real page turner which grips you from the beginning. Love, sadness, family, lies, healing and forgiveness, Hatvany includes it all. The only thing I didn't like about the book was the few times the Lord's name was taken in vain. - I received this book from goodreads in exchange for an honest review
By: Amy Hatvany Published By: Washington Square Press Age Recommended: Adult Reviewed By: Arlena Dean Rating: 4 Book Blog For: GMTA Review: "Heart Like Mine" By Amy Hatvany was a wonderfully written story full with mystery, family drama, relationships and death. I enjoyed how the author gave us a story told from three different people. Victor and Kelli are divorced and he is dating Grace. The children Ava and her brother Max live with their mom, Kelli. Now, as the story moves along there will be a death and the children will now live with their dad. Now, will this present a problem for Grace? You will have to keep up with the story because it does jump around quite a bit. This is where I say you must pick up this read to find out what it is all about. Each one of these three ladies will have a story...and what a story it is. The characters were all well developed and normal real people that kept you interested in the read and turning the pages to find out what was coming next. "Heart of Mine" was a rather quick read but it has a 'lots of substance' and would I recommend this book? YES!
This is an emotional story, my heart broke in several places as I read. Grace is happy with her life, loves her career and Victor, her fiance. He has two children who live with his ex, Kelli, and that makes Grace even happier. She has no desire to be a mother. Something tragic happens and the children come to live with Grace and their father. Thirteen year old Ava needs to know more about what made her mother a woman with a lot of pain. As she and Grace dig through Kelli's past the story is then being told by Kelli. So heartbreaking. Hatveny writes with such passion you can feel the emotions from each person as they go through the grieving process...the depression... the pain... and the change in their lives. Kelli and Grace are such different people, my heart went out to Kelli. She loved being a mom and just wanted to be accepted. A beautiful story. I received a copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Heart like Mine is the latest novel by Amy Hatvany. In this novel there are many secrets for the reader to uncover. Synopsis: This story is told from three different perspectives. Grace is the new woman in Victor’s life and will become a future step mother to Ava. She is Victor’s daughter and is fourteen years old and her little brother Max. Ava lives with her mother on the other side of town. Kelli is Ava’s mother who Victor calls to share news about their upcoming future. Kelli does not take this news well and is later found dead. Grace and Victor are left to try to hold things together after her death. Will the kids accept the news? What secrets are Grace, Kelli, and Ava hiding? How will this impact the future? My Thoughts: This is my first Amy Hatvany novel. I enjoyed it very much! I would finish reading a passage wanting to know more about what is coming up in the next pages. I loved the author crafted the story. You knew that Kelli was suffering from something but what? I found the approach less in your face than another popular author. To plot a good story, you must keep some secrets. These secrets are slowly revealed throughout the novel. The reader is than struggling with that character as they experience heartache and loss. I wonder what the theme will be for Amy’s next novel. You can win a copy of Heart like Mine in our giveaway.
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Are you a woman who thought that children just weren't in your picture? I am one of those women, so when I read the synopsis of this Amy Hatvany book, I was immediately drawn to Grace's story and could not wait to start this one. Grace is a woman who falls in love with a man who has two children with his ex wife and as this won't spoil the book, the ex wife tragically dies and the children must move in full time to their dad's and Grace's new home.
booksbysteph says "Must Read" Grace McAllister thinks she will never find love. Until a bad date turns good when she meets the owner of a restaurant, Victor. Grace does not want kids. Not that she does not like kids but she feels she will not be a good mother. Victor has two kids with his ex-wife, Kelli. Grace decides not to write Victor off because he has children; he only sees them a few times a month. After a year of being with Victor, he proposes. He wants to tell the children over the weekend but he and Grace feels it is only right that Kelli knows about it first. Grace has the newly engaged glow until she receives a phone call from Victor letting her know that Kelli has died. They cannot tell the kids about the engagement on the same weekend their mother dies. How does a young, healthy woman die? There was an empty pill bottle on the nightstand of the bed where she died. Could she have killed herself? Kelli still loved and wanted Victor back. Did the news of the engagement push her over the edge? What do they tell the children when they ask how their mother died? Nothing is known until blood tests comes back. Now the kids are in their Dad's life full time. That means they are in Grace's life too. Now a mother-like figure to kids she did not ask for and hate her, how will her relationship with Victor survive? I GIVE THIS BOOK: 4 3/4 out of 5 stars This book is a must read! It is told from three points of view: Grace, Kelli, and Ava (the daughter). This book allows the real questions to be spoken. What is expected of the stepmother. How children of different ages react differently to the death of a parent. How much do you tell the children and how far are the children willing to go to find answers. Was it the responsibility of other people to take care of Kelli and her depression. How do you celebrate your love for a man when something happens to his ex. There are so many avenues this book takes you down; some you know will come up and some you may never realize. I do not want to say too much more because I do not want to give anything away. I will finish by saying this is a must read and you will not be disappointed! Until next time, live life one page at a time!
Blurb from the publisher: Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time stepmom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be? At thirteen, Ava Hansen is mature beyond her years. Since her parents’ divorce, she has been the one taking care of her emotionally unstable mother and her little brother—she pays the bills, does the laundry, and never complains because she loves her mama more than anyone. And while her father’s new girlfriend is nice enough, Ava still holds out hope that her parents will get back together and that they’ll be a family again. But only days after Victor and Grace get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances—and soon, Grace and Ava discover there was much more to Kelli’s life than either ever knew. Narrated by Grace and Ava in the present with flashbacks into Kelli’s troubled past, Heart Like Mine is a poignant and hopeful portrait about womanhood, love, and the challenges of family life. My thoughts : Heart Like Mine, such a simple title, yet...who's heart is like mine? Ava's, the grieving and angry teen? Grace's, the instant "mom", almost wife and struggling career driven woman? Or Kelli's, relating to her daughter's, her hard nosed mother, or her daughter's soon to be step-mom? I started this book thinking I'd have a clear answer when I finished. You know what? It really doesn't matter who the title references. I'm one of those readers who likes to find the truth behind the title. And while my truth may be different from the truth you find? They're both truthful, and both right. Hatvany has created such real people! I know we often hear and read things like that, but I really mean "real". No matter what character is speaking, you know them! They are in your world. I think one of the hardest things for an author, is to accurately speak for different ages and to have it be honest, and most importantly, believable. One of the most honest scenes for me was between Grace and Victor, (her fiance and Ava's dad). They are discussing the incredibility of Kelli's parents not wanting to have anything to do with their daughter and grandchildren. OK, that's a pretty strange thing on its own, but the scene quickly turns to Grace being hurt because her fiance was remembering what traits he liked in his ex-wife, Kelli. Smartly, Hatvany quickly gave Grace the humility and love to realize that Victor, at one time, loved his ex, just as he loves HER now. That Victor is human. Hatvany's Heart Like Mine is scattered FULL of these quiet moments, where the characters are clearly defined, where she wants you to feel for each of them, and when you do? You struggle with the events of this story even more. You're pulled in the direction of the three women, and also pulled by the two main guys, Victor, and his son the adorable, Max. Hatvany has made the women the focus and also the characters who hold and also solve the mysteries. We don't get too much from the males, Victor, Max or Kelli's father. While Victor and Max figure in the stories, we hear little from them, but what little we hear is powerful. Kelli's distant father is around, but her mother's is the voice that we, as readers, have the most interaction with. For me, the author wrote a fast paced and engaging book, you wanted to read faster to keep the pages turning. Her dialogue for all of the characters is spot on and the voices clear in your head as you read. You quickly get to know these people and have no problem at all keeping up with the story, as Hatvany's superb story telling propels you forward. I won't give you too much more, as I don't want to spoil the ride that the author gives you. I give this 4 out of 5 stars, I really enjoyed Heart Like Mine, and recommend it highly. My only little quibble, so to speak, is that it all wrapped up pretty quickly. The ending is believable and satisfying, but it happened oh-so-fast! Now, if that's the only complaint I have? This is one fine book!!
I doubt I would have read this book if I didn’t get an email from Netgalley telling me it was available as a Read Now book. But I did get the email and I did read the book… Unfortunately, the book was purely mediocre. The plot seemed to drag on. There was too much day-to-day story and not enough action to move the story along. And when the story did progress, it was in a boringly predictable manner. Overall, the book was nice enough. It didn’t give me warm fuzzies and make me fall in love with it, though. *** This book was received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. ***