“A tender, beautifully told story of emotional growth, forgiveness [and] the possibility of miracles.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Madelaine Hillyard is a world-famous heart surgeon at the top of her game. Her personal life is far less successful. A loving but overworked single mom, she is constantly at odds with her teenage daughter. At sixteen, Lina is confused, angry, and fast becoming a stranger to her mother—a rebel desperate to find the father who walked away before she was born. Complicating matters for Madelaine are the vastly different DeMarco brothers: While priest Francis DeMarco is always ready to lend a helping hand, his brother, Angel, long ago took on the role of bad boy. Years earlier Angel abandoned Madelaine—and fatherhood—to go in search of fame and fortune. His departure left Madelaine devastated, but now he reappears and seeks help from the very people he betrayed—as a patient in dire need.
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Madelaine took a deep, steadying breath and marched into the lion's den.
He was sleeping. Thank God.
She stood in the doorway, uncertain for a second as to her best course of action. She could turn around and leave right now or she could wake him up and talk to him. Or she could sit down beside him and look at him. Just look.
Quietly she closed the door shut behind her. Weak autumn sunlight shone through the small window, giving the room a respite from the cold impersonality of fluorescent lighting. The narrow, metal-framed bed cut the room in half.
He lay as motionless as death, the washed-out gray sheeting tucked haphazardly across his chest. Dark brown hair lay in a tangled heap against the white cotton of the pillow. His chiseled face looked sunken and too thin; his lips were pale. A stubbly growth of black beard shadowed his triangular jaw and darkened his upper lip.
Even so, he was so handsome he took her breath away.
She sank unsteadily to the chair. For a second she couldn't think about his illness or what was at stake here. All she could think about was the past and how much she'd loved this man.
He had swept her, laughing, into a whole new world. A world of lights and possibility and hope, a place where rules and responsibility didn't exist. She'd clung to him, giggling, believing, following wherever he led, so proud that hers was the hand he wanted to hold. She'd fallen in love with him in the wild, abandoned way that only teenagers could. Made excuses during the day to be together, sneaking from her father's austere house in the middle of the night. It was the first time she'd ever disobeyed her father, and it had made her feel recklessly confident.
With the distance of so many years, she knew that she'd never really fallen in love with him, not in the way that lasts. She'd been consumed by his brushfire passion, transformed by him.
There had been that night, under the old oak tree at Carrington Park....
They'd been lying in the grass, staring up at the night sky, wishing on stars, sharing their dreams, holding each other. But she'd known it was time to go home. Her father would be getting back from his business trip.
She pulled away from him, staring down the long, darkened street. The thought of leaving him, returning to that cold house and her even colder father, made her feel almost sick with desperation. "I don't want to go back...." She realized instantly that she'd said too much. She held her breath, waiting for Angel to call her silly or stupid or childish--all the words her father hurled at her with such regularity.
But he didn't. He touched her cheek, gently turned her face to his. "Don't. Stay with me. We could run away...raise a family...be a family...." Madelaine had never known what it could feel like to love someone until that moment. The emotion swept through her, filling her soul with heat until, suddenly, she was laughing, and then she was crying. "I love you, Angel."
Ah...it had been so painfully sweet...
He pulled her into his arms, held her so tightly, she couldn't breathe. Together they dropped to their knees in the spongy grass. She felt his hands on her, stroking her hair, her back, her hips. And then he was kissing her, tasting her tears, claiming her so completely with his mouth that she felt dizzy.
At last he drew back and stared down at her. There was an intensity in his eyes that stole her breath, made her heart beat wildly. "I love you, Madelaine. I don't...I mean, I've never..." Tears squeezed past his eyelashes and he started to wipe them away.
She stopped his hand. "Don't be afraid," she whispered.
He gave her a trembling smile. In that instant she understood so much about him, about the way he was. He went about swaggering and blustering and acting like the rebel, but on the inside he was just like her. Scared and confused and lonely. He didn't believe in himself, didn't think he was good, but he was--she believed in him enough for both of them. And he loved her like no one had ever loved her before....
Such powerful, powerful words: I love you...
After that, she'd told him everything, opened her heart and soul to him and let him become a part of her. Without him, she hadn't thought she could live.
What if he could do that to her again?
She forced herself to remember the other things, the other moments, letting the pain wash through her in a cold, cleansing sweep.
She'd thought she'd forgiven him for what he'd done to her--for leaving her without so much as a good-bye. Honestly, truly, she thought she had. Time and again she'd replayed the sequence of events in her head. She told herself she didn't blame Angel for running out on her. She told herself that seventeen was young, so young, and with each advancing year of her life, it felt younger still. She told herself it had been for the best, that they never would have made it, that they would have ruined each other's lives.
Yes, she'd told herself a lot of things, but now, in this second, staring down at him, she recognized the truth at last. They were lies, all of them lies. Pretty foil paper on a dark, ugly gift.
She hadn't forgiven him. How could she?
He'd killed a part of her that summer, a part he'd created and nurtured and claimed to love. A part she'd never gotten back.
Reading Group Guide
Home Again by Kristin Hannah
A Conversation with Kristin Hannah and Random House Reader's Circle
Random House Reader’s Circle: What inspired you to write Home Again?
Kristin Hannah: Home Again was inspired by a real-life event. I was watching television one day—a talk show—and the guest was a man who had recently had a heart transplant. This was remark- able enough, but as the interview went on, and the story unfolded, I listened in awe as this man related the story of his transplant. He had been on his deathbed and his daughter had been in a terrible motorcycle accident on the way to saying her final good-bye. He then had to make the wonderful/terrible decision to accept his daughter’s heart. I don’t think anyone could hear this extraordinary story and not be moved. I knew immediately that I had the inspira- tion for my next novel.
RHRC: Home Again is different from your other books in that there’s a supernatural element to the story. Was this always something you planned to include in the plot or did it happen organically as you were writing?
KH: Actually, early on in my career I included supernatural elements into my novels on a fairly regular basis. I touched on reincarnation, “going into the light,” and time travel. The supernatural element in this book arose very naturally from the subject matter. For me, heart transplantation led inexorably to questions of spirituality. Anyone who has read my body of work knows that I am endlessly fascinated with life-and-death issues, and this novel is really an extension of that interest.
RHRC: Madelaine’s a cardiologist, Francis is a priest, and Angel is an actor. In all your novels, your characters have interesting and varied careers. How do you choose the careers of your characters? What is the process of creating a character like for you?
KH: One of the things I love most about writing is the research into people’s lives. I love to learn about other careers and how people live. As far as choosing the careers of my characters, it’s really a question of fitting all the pieces together. Each of the various com- ponents of a character’s life—his or her backstory, career, educa- tion, hobbies, family relationships, and self-image—has to serve the issue or theme that I’ve set as the foundation of the story. That’s really what it’s all about for me: an exploration of a theme.
RHRC: You’ve written a few books that have a teenager’s perspective; is there a particular reason why you chose to include a teen viewpoint in many of your works?
KH: I think it’s because the teen years are so pivotal in our lives. In our youth, we are often faced with difficult, potentially life-altering decisions, yet we don’t have the experience to handle it all with grace. We stumble and fall and learn to stand on our own. I am particularly drawn to the intense pressure that our teens are under these days.
RHRC: Do you ever draw from your own life for your stories or your characters?
KH: I don’t write autobiographical pieces per se, but I am constantly drawing from my own life and my own experiences.
RHRC: What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing Home Again?
KH: There were several challenges in writing Home Again. First off, it was my first contemporary novel, so I had to nurture and develop a different voice. It was in finding that voice that I glimpsed the future of my career. Once I began writing about modern women, I was hooked. The other challenge of the novel was the research. It was really important to me that the novel be as accurate as I could make it about this important topic.
RHRC: At the core of your stories, there is always a message, often related to mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters. What is the message that you’d like readers to take from this book?
KH: I never set out to impart a “message” in a novel. Really, I just intend to tell a powerful, emotional, universal story. That being said, I do find that my work as a whole contains definite thematic similarities. It’s obvious that I believe in forgiveness, redemption, second chances, and the power of love to transform our lives. Each of those themes is definitely present in Home Again. I also really believe in the triumph of the human spirit to overcome adversity.
RHRC: Francis is a priest who is confronting regrets about the path he has taken in life. Why did you include this character in this story? Was it hard to get into the mind of a priest?
KH: No, it wasn’t any more difficult to write a priest than to write any other character. It required the same combination of research and imagination that most characterizations require. I chose a priest because of the questions of spirituality raised by the issue of heart transplantation. Obviously, the heart is a physical part of our bodies, but culturally, it represents so much more. I needed a character whose spirituality was so profound that it could be nearly transcendent.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Seventeen-year-old Angel betrays Madelaine by taking money from her father in exchange for ending their relationship. Why do you think he chose to do this? Do you understand his deci- sion? Do you believe that a thing like this can or should be for- given? Do you think he would have made the same choice had he known that she was going to have the baby?
2. When Angel hears that he needs a heart transplant, he is both troubled and torn by the thought of having someone else’s heart in his body. This is actually a common reaction. How do you think you would feel in that situation?
3. Do you think a person has a right to know about his or her organ donor, or is it better if confidentiality is maintained? Why or why not?
4. Should Madelaine have revealed Lina’s father to her earlier? Is there an appropriate moment or age to have this kind of discussion with your child?
5. Francis and Angel were treated differently by their mother. How do you think this affected each man?
6. Madelaine tries so hard to be Lina’s friend that she sometimes fails as a parent. In what instances do you believe Madelaine is a bad parent? When is she a good parent?
7. There is some scientific evidence that states that organs may hold memories on a cellular level. Do you believe that’s possible? If so, do you believe that these memories can be trans- ferred to the recipient? How does that possibility affect your opinion on organ donation?
8. Would Madelaine have told Angel about his donor if the media weren’t involved? Do you think she should have kept it a secret?
9. Francis faces regrets about his life; do you believe that priesthood was truly his calling? How do you feel about his conflicted feelings between his love for his God and his faith and his longing for what could have been?
10. Lina is an angry and confused young girl who wants her mother’s love yet rejects it. Why do you think it’s so hard for chil- dren to express their feelings to their parents?
11. Madelaine grew up with a stern, rigid father, while Lina grew up with no father at all. How did this impact their lives and their characters?
12. Imagine these characters in five years. In ten. What do you think their lives will be like?