Book Review: Till it Stops Beating

I’ve been meaning to read this book FOR AGES. 

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know about one of my first jobs in publishing was as a reader for Sucker Literary. Sucker was a YA Anthology run by author Hannah R. Goodman. In my time working for Sucker, and also submitting my work to Sucker, Hannah and I got to know each other. And when her book Till It Stops Beating was released in July 2018, I quickly snatched up a copy, and it has lived amidst my TBR list ever since. 

More recently, after a conversation with Hannah, I realized I hadn’t yet read that book, because life got in the way, and my TBR list is years old and contains more books than I’ll ever probably read. I pushed everything else aside and finally picked it up. 

Book Summary: 

Seventeen-year-old Maddie Hickman’s senior year begins with the good (the reemergence of The One That Got Away), the bad (a cancer diagnosis, not hers, but it might as well be) and the WTF (an anxiety attack that renders her writhing on the floor like an upside down crab).

Adding to her spiraling anxiety is Senior Project, in the form of I’ve Decided To Write A Book about The Other One That Got Away (And Crushed My Heart). Compounding it all is applying to college and keeping up with her friends. The ever-mounting stress eventually rips her tight grip on all that she holds dear.

Her break down leads to an unexpected road trip where she is forced to listen to her wildly beating heart. It is only in the back of a convertible with pop music blasting, that she discovers she must risk everything in order to really live.

What I Enjoyed: 

I’ve been suffering from anxiety since I was a teenager. My son has suffered from sometimes crippling anxiety for most of his life. He’s only ten. And so, Till It Stops Beating’s main character, Maddie Hickman immediately earned herself a very solid place in my heart. This was genuine mental health rep, with a relatable protagonist, whose anxiety manifests itself in realistic ways. 

Maddie has been through a lot. She’s been through the death of a friend. The addictions of her sister and the boy she once loved, but still can’t shake. She’s struggled through some nightmare scenarios, and when she discovers her Bubbie (Grandma, for those of you who weren’t raised at least somewhat Jewish), it takes her a minute, but Maddie finally shuts down. She implodes, unable to add this to her litany of troubles and her mounting fear of the future. You see, Maddie is a senior in high school, and she has no idea where she is headed, or who she wants to be. 

So, once she pulls herself together from the big emotional drop, Maddie does what anybody would do when pushing themselves to recover—she experiments. She tries to figure out who she wants to be through sheer force of will. She throws herself into life and discovers that what she always needed wasn’t at all what she ever expected. 

Though the first half was incredibly touching, it is in this latter half, as she struggles to find her place after striking out as an adult, that the book truly finds its footing as a story of fighting through anxiety, and finding what matters most–not to live safely, but to live well. 

What I’d Avoid: 

While I loved the prose in this book, and the characters were relatable and fun, I did find that part 1 and part 2 of this book felt like two completely different books. High School just kind of ends abruptly there in the middle, and suddenly we are on this road trip we haven’t even really seen Maddie come up with. I almost wish this would have been a long percolating idea in her head from the beginning of the book, so it didn’t feel like such a plot shift. This happens a few times. There is also a book that Maddie is writing in the first half for her senior project, and it’s done before we really have time to feel her triumph. I get that there was a lot happening in this book, and we couldn’t linger that long on too many parts, given the span of time being addressed, but this made me feel like the book was running away from us. The pacing was just a little off for me. 

Would I Recommend It: 

Yes, absolutely. Maddie is a great character, and her collection of friends and family are heartwarming and endearing. I was carried along with her journey and enjoyed exploring her emotions. She’s a complicated person, which makes her feel very real, and the mental health representation makes this important reading for the young adult market. 

What Can I Learn From It:

The writer and editor in me finds a lesson in each book, and here’s the one that can be found here. Always write from the heart. Write your truth and don’t go easy on it. Some thoughts we have aren’t the most likeable. Some things we do make us look like jerks. But that’s the reality of who we are. Not everything gets resolved in the end in life, and that should be true for fiction, too. We don’t always get to say our sorrys. We don’t always get to say our goodbyes. 

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