Director of a non-profit dedicated to getting abused women back on their feet, Grace has never wanted children. She helped raise her younger brother, is a caretaker in her work life, and has never longed for kids of her own. But when she meets and falls in love with good-looking, restauranteur Victor Hansen, she figures that she can be step-mother to his teenaged daughter and young son, especially since the kids live with his ex-wife Kelli. But just days after Grace and Victor get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly and unexpectedly, throwing their future and lives into turmoil. Suddenly, non-maternal Grace is at the center of a ready-made, full-time family and she has to step up to support children grieving the loss of their mother and resentful of her presence or decide that this isn't the life she signed on for and walk away. Victor can't be around for his kids as much as he'd like because the restaurant demands so much of him to stay successful but he and Grace clash over ways to parent his children, especially when Ava pits her father against her soon to be stepmother, adding more tension into an already fraught situation. And Ava, on the cusp of becoming a young woman, resents and needs Grace, alternately pushing her away out of loyalty to Kelli and clinging to her for emotional support and the understanding that only a mother or woman can provide. As they all try to come to an understanding of why Kelli died, long-held secrets from her past start to surface and help to explain more of her character to both Ava and Grace and help them come to an understanding of the person she was.
Grace and Ava and Kelli are all the focus of a third person omniscient narrator here; Grace and Ava's perspectives are presented both in the present and the past, filling in their backstories, and in the chapters focused on Kelli, her past is explored. This technique gives the reader a way to know Grace and Ava's histories and see why they react the ways they do to Kelli's death and to understand what was going on in Kelli's head just before she died. Hatvany has done a good job capturing the mercurial grief of a teenager and the ways in which blended families face stressors that intact families can't imagine, especially when complicated by the loss of one parent. Ava is immature and realistic as a budding teenager, filled with rage and grief and confusion, pushing Grace away even as she needs the reassurance that Grace is there for her if she needs her. Grace hersef is floundering in a role she never chose and which has changed her life beyond recognition. She is so caught up in processing the fact that she's been thrust into parenting that she can't recognize the fact that her compassion and caring at work will directly translate to dealing with Ava and Max. Her frustration, hurt, and betrayal in the early days after Kelli's death as she and Victor not only figure out their changed relationship but also how Grace fits into the kids' lives now that they all live together is definitely authentic feeling although perhaps not explored as fully as it might be as the mystery of Kelli's past picks up steam.
Heart Like Mine is very much a book about relationships, those we choose and those we don't and about the ways in which we adapt and change our relationships when life warrants. It is a quick read and the main characters are sympathetic and realistic. The mystery behind Kelli's long estrangement from her parents is easily guessed and the resolution between Grace and Ava is too easy and quick given the difficult emotions that preceeded it and the reality of life in a blended family. This accelerated pacing towards the end of the book, as the reason behind Kelli's despair is uncovered and the question of whether or not she took too many pills on purpose is revealed (but only to the reader, not to the characters), is a flaw but not one that will put off most readers. Hatvany tackles current social issues carefully and women's fiction fans will appreciate this tale of motherhood, relationship, family, and loss.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.