A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti Spoiler-Free + Spoiler Review

*Trigger Warnings: Gun violence, death, trauma, stalking*

‘A Heart in a Body in the World’ by Deb Caletti is a YA contemporary novel that largely focuses on trauma and recovery. It currently has an average rating of 4.34 on Goodreads and I have rated it five stars.

When everything is taken from Annabelle she doesn’t know what to do, so she does the only thing she knows how to do anymore: she runs. She runs from Seattle to Washington D.C., and she doesn’t want to think about anything other than the how, but no one can outrun their past and Annabelle’s follows her through suburban streets and mountain passes; ‘The Taker’ haunts her. Followed by her grandpa and his RV, and back by family and friends Annabelle finds herself becoming a reluctant activist and at the centre of media attention and block parties. She can’t help but feel guilty, even though what happened isn’t her fault, but she can’t see that so she continues to run to her destination, unable to face what is past or beyond that.

“Oh, every person is a book with chapters. Some are glorious and some are dark and ugly. Every person survives something.”

Spoiler-Free Review:

If you love books that feature in-depth explorations of mental health, realistic plotlines and fun characters this book is for you (and even if you don’t like these things I suggest you give this a go.)

The book however is not an easy read, it is incredibly emotive and Caletti has managed to expertly capture the fear and terror of Annabelle’s situation in these pages with what seems like little difficulty. I found myself regularly choking up as I turned the pages and felt everything Annabelle felt, so if you feel uncomfortable at the concept of having to face trauma or fear head-on I wouldn’t recommend this.

Yet, the characters in this are a joy to read. They all felt real and each played a part in the story that felt significant, even if some had ‘bigger’ significant moments than others. Really what was great about characters is how Caletti explored the complexity of relationships through them from maternal and paternal, to sibling, to platonic and romantic. There was a focus on all kinds of relationships and each was shown to develop, as well as highlight the more intimate sides to all of these relationships.

Another highlight of the book was Caletti’s writing, and whilst there is no highlight of the narrative that is glaringly obvious such as lyrical language, her writing truly holds the book together. To take a book with such heavy subject matters, a slow-paced plot and a protagonist who is suffering is a brave feat as the work could so easily become overbearing on a reader, yet Caletti’s writing lets a reader glide through the pages but still feel everything she is conveying. It’s a true talent and quite a remarkable accomplishment.

It is worthy to note that Caletti tackles the concept of trauma extremely well, and whilst I previously mentioned this can be difficult to read, it’s done so well that I think it’s important to at least try to read the book. Caletti shows recovery when it comes to trauma (and mental health illnesses at large) is not linear, Annabelle continually goes through ups and downs and all it felt like it’s how someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress could really be feeling. As well as this there was a large and less detailed focus on gun violence and rape culture, and whilst this was not explored in as great as depth both topics felt well-handled and as if Caletti understood the issues.

Overall this is a fantastic YA book that covers mental health in a surprisingly good way considering it’s genre – I rarely read YA books that cover trauma or mental health so well. Whilst I would encourage everyone to pick this up due to it’s fantastic characters and great commentary, I understand not everyone will be able to due to it’s emotive language and subjects, but it is an important read.

Spoiler Review:

First of all, what a book. This is an incredible exploration of trauma and mental health, and also explores a less detailed commentary surrounding gun violence and control in the U.S. as well as rape culture. The book is not terribly fast-paced nor is it full of exciting adventures or remarkable characters, rather it stays grounded in reality and the complexity and horror of the issues it’s trying to address.

What this book will do instead of sending you on an unbelievable adventure, is fill you with intense moments and emotions that will be burned into your mind. This book doesn’t let up at any point, you are constantly next to Annabelle and feeling everything she is feeling and therefore is it not an easy read, but it’s an important one.

Despite not sending you on fast-paced or overwhelmingly fun adventure the story is full of intriguing characters. Annabelle, whilst at times difficult to read from due to her great and terrifying emotions, is a sweet character who clearly values her relationships with the people around her. Her arc in her mental health recovery is nice to read as well, as we see every progression of this recovery from despair to anger to hope and back again, at no point is it linear but the book ends on an overwhelming feeling of hope.

There are also other characters such as those who make up Annabelle’s family and friends that add something special to the story, I suppose it’s because all of them feel remarkably real. Annabelle’s family is made up of her mother, younger brother Malcom and Grandpa Ed (and her bastard father Anthony), they’re all amusing in their dynamics, and all have their own quirks that add some mirth to the difficult read: her grandpa and his strange Italian sayings and translations as well as Malcom and his ability to read like a tiny adult. This pairs delightfully with Luke and his grandma, Dawn Celeste, who Annabelle meets when she’s running, as both are unique characters whose stories of travel contrast well with Annabelle’s home-life and her arguing Grandpa and mother.

As someone who has seen a therapist due to post-traumatic stress, and admittedly this trauma originated from a different reason than Annabelle’s (a shooting), I identified with a lot of what she was feeling. Trauma is not something you can outrun even though Annabelle tries to, it follows you around in flashbacks (emotional or not), bad dreams, fear and in your relationships with people – it can feel like it’s everywhere. Annabelle’s feelings of wanting to do something to escape it but realising she couldn’t until she faced it head on was something I’ve experienced, and at times I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat because I understood, I felt it with her.

Whilst it paints a realistic and difficult portrayal of this it doesn’t fail to also provide hope in the recovery. It also provides a smaller and less detailed commentary on gun violence in America at large, and it’s fairly damning of the casual dismissal of claims that gun safety laws aren’t needed; and it provides a broad and not very detailed or specific commentary on rape culture and the relationship between men and women in the modern age. It covers a lot. Whilst not all of it is detailed or nuanced, it doesn’t matter as the book never claims to provide that, rather it pulls discussions on gun violence and rape culture into the detailed commentary on trauma and mental health, so a lack of detail works.

To conclude, I love this book and I think you would to. Again, it’s not for everyone due to it’s contents but it’s very good at covering them in a sensitive but also constructive manner, and I highly recommend it based on those reasons.

Have you read this book? And if so what did you think? If not please pick it up!

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