A "compelling and thought-provoking" (Kristin Hannah) novel about two mothers and one daughter who are linked by tragedy and bound by secrets, from the acclaimed author of Heart Like Mine.
The screech of tires brought Hannah Scott’s world as she knew it to a devastating end. A year after she signed the papers to donate her daughter’s organs, Hannah is still reeling with grief when she unexpectedly stumbles into the life of the Bell family, whose fifteen-year-old daughter, Maddie, survived only because Hannah’s daughter had died. Mesmerized by this fragile connection to her own daughter and afraid to reveal who she actually is, Hannah develops a surprising friendship with Maddie’s mother, Olivia.
The Bells, however, have problems of their own. Once on the verge of leaving her wealthy but abusive husband, Olivia now finds herself bound to him in the wake of the transplant that saved their daughter’s life. Meanwhile, Maddie, tired of the limits her poor health puts upon her and fearful of her father’s increasing rage, regularly escapes into the one place where she can be anyone she wants: the Internet. But when she is finally healthy enough to return to school, the real world proves to be just as complicated as the isolated bubble she had been so eager to escape.
A masterful narrative shaped by nuanced characters whose delicate bonds are on a collision course with the truth, Safe with Me is a riveting triumph.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Amy Hatvany is the author of nine novels, including It Happens All the Time, Somewhere Out There, and A Casual Encounter. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her family.
Read an Excerpt
Safe with Me
I wait until Mom leaves the room before I log in to my email account—the one linked to the Facebook profile my parents know nothing about. The one I created so I could pretend to actually have a life.
About six months ago, when I was just dinking around on the Internet, I stumbled across the Facebook profile of a gorgeous twenty-one-year-old girl in Austin, Texas, who was stupid enough to not use any kind of security on her page. (Not a single, solitary one. I mean, really. Who does that?) Despite her ignorance of privacy settings, as I looked through her picture albums, I thought, I want to be her. She’s everything I’m not—tall and thin with breasts like cantaloupes and a sparkly belly button ring. She has long, black, wavy hair, shimmery, tanned olive skin, and legs that are, like, twice as long as her torso. She dates hot guys with Abercrombie & Fitch–like style and gets to travel for her job as a car show model. And then I thought, Why can’t I be her? It’s not like I’d be hurting anyone—I wouldn’t be stealing her Social Security number or the password to her bank accounts. I wouldn’t be using her airline miles or racking up charges at Victoria’s Secret on her credit card. Using her pictures on my online profiles would simply give me a chance for a little vacation from pills and blood draws and IV fluids. It would let me be something other than sick.
I quickly discovered that while I could copy some of her pictures, there was no way I’d copy her status updates, since they tended to be filled with multiple exclamation points: “TGIF!!! Bring on the boys and beer!!! LOL!!!” (I might only be fifteen, but I’m not an idiot.) Instead, I amped up “Sierra’s” (aka my) profile by liking what I hoped was a cool assortment of different pages. I kept it as close to the truth about me as possible, listing my music interests as hers (Coldplay, Fiona Apple, and Nirvana); giving her the books I adore (the Hunger Games series, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and The Nanny Diaries); and liking a few trendy pages: “Bacon” and “George Takei.” I changed the girl’s name (from Tiffani Myers to Sierra Stone), college (from none to WSU), and career (from model to aspiring graphic artist), then copied Tiffani’s profile picture and other snapshots from her albums, making backup files on my hard drive so I could use the images as my avatar in the chat rooms I liked to visit and the games I liked to play online. (I had to restrain myself from sending Tiffani what I thought would be a helpful, anonymous message: “You do realize the Internet is forever, right? That pic of you lying across the BMW in a red bikini, men lined up take body shots off you? Your grandchildren are going to see that.”) I accepted friend requests from anyone who wasn’t already friends with Tiffani, amazed by the number of random strangers who “Sierra” was suddenly “friends” with simply because of the way she looked.
Now, as I lie in my hospital bed with zero emails in Sierra’s inbox, I toy briefly with the idea of creating a profile as my actual self: a fifteen-year-old girl with a diseased liver, an emotionally distant father, and a sweet but overprotective mother. A girl who doesn’t have any friends. Who has never gone to a school dance or had a boy try to kiss her. A girl who, if she doesn’t get a transplant, is going to die.
I dig my fingernails into my palms and gulp hard, fighting back the tears. Most of the time, I’m able to keep the reality of my situation shoved into a corner of my mind. I can see it, I know the truth, but I can dance past it when I want, pretending to be Sierra instead of Maddie, hovering above what feels like an impending doom. Being in the hospital makes it impossible to ignore. I sleep most of the time, I can’t eat, and the looks on Dr. Steele’s and my mother’s faces tell me that things aren’t getting any better—they’re getting worse.
When I first got sick, I didn’t really understand what it meant. I knew I didn’t feel good—I was tired all of the time and I didn’t want to eat. I was six when I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which meant I couldn’t ingest anything with any sort of gluten in it. When I did, I’d ache all over and get incredibly nauseous. A year later, it became worse. After a couple of weeks of thinking my symptoms were due to my secret stash of my dad’s beloved multigrain bread, Mom took me to the pediatrician, who, while pushing gently on my abdominal area, discovered my liver was enlarged. Several blood tests and specialist visits later, my problem had a name: type 2 hepatitis, which, apparently, adolescent girls who already have some kind of autoimmune disorder like celiac are more likely to contract. It’s rare, but it happens. Lucky me.
“It’s treatable,” Dr. Steele told us. He prescribed an initially high dose of prednisone, then gradually tapered the amount down to try and keep my immune system in check. The meds worked, at first. I was able to stay in school, though I couldn’t run as hard or fast as the other kids in my class. And then one morning, in third grade, I woke up writhing and sweating in my bed. “I can’t get up, Mama,” I cried. “Help me!” I remember the fear, the agonizing ache in my bones. I remember vomiting so hard I saw streams of blood in the toilet. I remember my throat swelling and feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I was in the hospital that night, and didn’t leave for several weeks.
“Esophageal inflammation,” Dr. Steele explained to my parents when he met us in the emergency room. “When the circulation in Maddie’s body gets blocked because of scar tissue on her liver, blood can back up into other vessels. Mostly in her stomach and esophagus, which I think is what’s happening now.”
“And how do you propose to fix it?” Dad asked, holding on to the metal rail of my bed until his thick knuckles went white. I’d always hated my father’s hands: they gripped too tightly, slammed too many doors.
“We’ll try adding another course of anti-inflammatories and upping the prednisone. If that doesn’t work, we may have to consider surgically inserting a shunt, to drain the fluid from her liver,” Dr. Steele said, then looked over to me. “You’ll have to stay here awhile, Maddie, so we can get you better. I promise, we’ll take excellent care of you.”
“I want her moved to a private suite as soon as possible,” Dad said.
“Please,” my mom quietly added to his demand, and Dad grabbed her hand hard enough that she flinched. He shot Dr. Steele a charming smile. “I apologize. It’s just . . . Maddie is my little girl. I only want the best for her. You understand.”
Dr. Steele nodded slowly, then tweaked my nose. “I’ll see you after your ultrasound, missy. Can I bring you a Popsicle from the cafeteria?” I bobbed my head yes, because at eight years old, I still thought Popsicles made everything better.
Seven years and countless hospital stays later, I detest Popsicles. I’ve also managed to build up a tolerance to the drugs that are supposed to suppress what Dr. Steele calls my “hyperimmune response,” so they aren’t working anymore. They make me fat and bloated and still my stupid immune system thinks my liver is its enemy and keeps trying to kill it. And the unfortunate side effect of that is killing me. Unless I get a transplant. Unless some other person with the right blood type dies and saves my life.
I try to distract myself from these depressing thoughts with a quick review of Tiffani’s profile, scanning for material I might be able to snag for Sierra. I note that she’s taking a trip to England for a car show next week, so I know there’ll be new pictures to use. I cringe, imagining Tiffani’s Facebook posts as she travels: “OMG!! Big Ben!!” and “I ordered chips and got French fries. LMAO, y’all!!”
My mom reenters the room just as I close the browser and lock the screen. She doesn’t know much about computers past being able to email and surf the Web, but I password-protect mine, just to be safe. “Your dad sends his love,” she says.
“Awesome. Why be here when he can just ‘send his love’?”
Mom frowns at my sarcasm. “Maddie—”
“What?” I snap, closing my laptop. I get so tired of her pretending that Dad is such a great guy. I know she’s trying to protect me. I know she hopes I don’t notice what goes on in our house, but I’d have to be a moron not to. I’d have to be Tiffani.
Suddenly, the weight of overwhelming fatigue clamps down on my body. My heartbeat thuds inside my skull, chipping away at my consciousness, and I have to close my eyes. It hits me like this sometimes. I’ll be feeling almost normal (well, normal for me, at least, which Dr. Steele says is probably how most people feel when they have a seriously bad case of food poisoning), and out of nowhere, I think, Okay, this is it. These are my last breaths. I try to have meaningful thoughts, to wish for world peace and the end to childhood famine and Miss America-y things like that, but usually, like now, I think about how I wish I could have a bowlful of chocolate gelato just one more time. I wish I could lie on the beach and get a sunburn, listening to the waves crash against the shore. I wish I wasn’t going to die a virgin.
Mom rushes over to my bed. “Are you okay?” she asks, placing a cool hand against my forehead. I know I have a fever—my skin crackles beneath her touch. In the last year, there has only been a total of about a week that I haven’t had a fever.
“I’m in a hospital, Mom,” I say with a weak smile. “So, no. Not so much okay.” I force my eyes open. “Thanks for asking, though.”
“Sassy.” Mom shakes her head, but smiles, too.
I pat the top of her hand. “These stupid pain meds are making me dizzy. I feel like shit.” Mom is quiet, worried lines etched in deep parentheses around her mouth. I jiggle her arm gently. “What, no ‘watch your language’? I must really be going to die this time.”
Seeing the look of horror that takes over her face, I want to reel the words back the second they tumble out of my mouth. “Madelyn Bell,” Mom says. Tears gloss her pretty hazel eyes. “Don’t you talk like that.”
“Sorry,” I say, with a guilty shrug. She hates it when I joke about death, but for me, it’s the easiest way to deal. Plus, the way I figure it, if I’m happy and laughing, I can’t die. God would have to be a total asshole to strike me down in the middle of a giggle.
Mom looks like she’s going to say something, but then Dr. Steele rushes into the room, practically tripping over his long legs. I consider briefly that he and Tiffani, with their superextended, alienlike limbs, might make an excellent couple.
“We got it!” he says, and my mother starts to cry. I must look confused, because then he says, “She hasn’t told you?”
I throw my gaze back and forth between them. “Told me what?”
He smiles, a wide motion that shows his gums, top and bottom, and his big Chiclet teeth. “We need to get you prepped for surgery,” he says. “This is it, kiddo. Your whole world is about to change.”
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Safe with Me includes 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 title of the novel, and the idea of safety—both of a physical and emotional nature—in the story. Who is keeping whom safe in this book?
2. If you had been in Hannah’s position, do you think you could have donated your child’s organs? Why or why not?
3. Did Olivia and James’s relationship change how you viewed domestic abuse? Does Olivia match your vision of an abuse victim?
4. What is the book saying about the relationship between one’s physical exterior and their emotional and psycho- logical state? How does each character try to project an outward appearance that is different from their internal feelings?
5. Read the novel’s epigraph as a group. What does the concept of destiny, or fate, mean to you?
6. Olivia has many reasons for not leaving James, not the least of which are financial. Consider the power dynamics at play in their marriage. How does James make Olivia feel helpless—and how does he also make her feel special?
7. Dishonesty is a theme throughout the novel. Do you think that there are degrees of dishonesty? For example, is there a difference between fabricating a story and obscuring the truth? What qualifies as lying? And is dishonesty that has good intentions more excusable?
8. Turn to page 177, and as a group, read the scene where James brings Olivia breakfast in bed. Can you empathize with Olivia’s thinking that, “even though she knows better, even though she’s been through this with him a hundred times before, Olivia can’t help but wonder if she really needs to leave him after all.”
9. Maddie’s experience at the mall with Hailey and her friends highlights the perils of being a teenage girl. Do you have any memories from this age that are similar? Do you think the challenges of being an adolescent girl have inherently changed?
10. On page 182, Olivia acknowledges that she worries some- times, “that Maddie spends so much time interacting with what other people’s imaginations have dreamed up that she’ll never learn to imagine things on her own.” For those of you who have children, do you worry about this as well?
11. Discuss the role that technology plays in this narrative. In what ways does it have an empowering, connective impact? In what ways does it have a distancing effect?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Do you know anyone who has received a donor organ? Learn more about organ donation at: http://www.organdonor.gov/index.html.
2. If you haven’t read Heart Like Mine yet, consider reading it as a group. Discuss how Hatvany uses three alternating perspectives for different purposes in both Heart Like Mine and Safe with Me. What are some of the devices she uses to create unique voices for each of her narrators in these novels?
3. Many domestic abuse shelters accept items that we routinely replace and then have no further need for—like computers, cell phones, cameras, or even magazines. Consider bringing a few of these items to your next meeting and then find a local shelter to donate them to.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great book up till the end!
This book is a huge waste of time and money. The characters are boring, and without depth or even a tinge of likability , and the plot lines are predictable. The book is over-written and filled with sophomoric descriptions; I was able to skip paragraphs, often entire pages, without losing content.The book is depressing, dealing with death and abuse and regret, with no logical resolution. Try Whistling Past the Graveyard, The Orphan Train, The Visible City for a better reading adventure..
This book flowed well and was easy to read. The abusive relationship added an element of curiosity and concern. KInd of a neat concept that a donor family could actually meet the person they donated to. It's uplifting in a way.
This is my fifth book by Amy, with a rating of ALL 5 Stars; however, can honestly say, SAFE WITH ME is an award-winning book, rightly deserving to be at the top of the list as recipient of Best Fiction of 2014, and to remain on the NY Times Bestseller list for months to come . . . Wow, 5 stars does not seem appropriate, as this compelling book is so deserving of at least a 10 star review—without a doubt, the best book I have read this year (82nd book read YTD, March has not ended yet). When I give a 5 star rating, it is due to a number of criteria, with the main one, “not being able to put the book down”. So when you run across a book such as, SAFE WITH ME, five stars seems inadequate, as deserving of so much more. (you want to blog and tell all your friends to buy this book, TODAY)! I knew the first time I read one of Amy’s books, she would be one of my favorite authors for life. Everything she writes is so masterfully crafted, reflective of her talents as a highly skilled author, speaking from the heart with honestly, sensitivity and humor. She is not afraid to tackle highly charged subjects such as alcoholism, grief, critical illness, sickness, abuse, family drama, relationships, social subjects, death, bullying, and organ donation. From the first page, I was hooked! There are some strong women characters here, and the topics Hatvany selected, and brilliant way she was able to skillfully create a path for each of these woman to connect and intersect, was outstanding! The characters had so many flaws, yet she used them in such a delicate way to create a positive and warm feel and take away, for her readers and fans. (I also enjoy her acknowledgement with the creation of her stories, as inspiring). SAFE WITH ME, had so much meaning from the emotional to the physical. From creating false identity and hope of oneself, coping with insecurities and dishonesty, fabricating stories and lies created by fear, and continuing to keep feelings and actions buried deeper, for a more serious outcome. I especially related to the abuse topic, as was a victim in a similar situation with a wealthy, controlling second husband, with Jekyll and Hyde, Sleeping with the Enemy type personality, as James; in so much, I could almost predict his next move (as bad or worse) with painful memories resurfacing, as I turned the pages of this realistic plight. Maddie’s first hand struggle as patient and afterwards as a transplant survivor was heart breaking, as she is attempting to survive in world new to her, while dealing with her own guilt and prison, within her own home. In addition, how social media and technology played a huge part in the storyline and narrative, as well as how teens can become involved in such peer pressure with such tactics as bullying, shoplifting, as well as online attempts to help make themselves to fit in and be more acceptable. There are so many dynamics to this powerful and riveting story which will keep you turning well into the night, with your heart pounding to see what coming around the corner. I could write more; however, will stop to save room for others. We all need friendships, encouragement and support to help those in time of need through grief, with domestic shelters, and support groups. An amazing story, which will live on well after the last page. Hats off Amy – this is a winner! A genuine thank you for the courage, tenacity, and commitment to craft such a remarkable story. I highly recomme
It's just so wonderful to try to find just ONE review of this book.......but no. Just stupid blather from silly stupid kids playing dumb games. I doubt these babies are even smart enough to read a book. B & N better get on the ball and delete these idiots before this review place is ruined for all your adult book buyers!!!!!!!!!
Looks at Kristy. "I still don't know if can trust." I say turning. I walk to "powers" res 3.
Please! It wasnt me!
Im sorry zach ..it was an opportunity to find a name and liked to use..i never meant for any of this to happen...and im not stalking im trying to make things right