What Hearts

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by Bruce Brooks. Novel. 208 pages. Grades 5-9.
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Review

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This book, told in four brief stories, gives us a longitudinal study of love as experienced by a gifted child. In the first vignette, Asa arrives home from the last day of school elated with his straight A's and full of plans for a wonderful summer only to find that his parents are divorcing and he and his mother are moving.

Asa's mother announces that she is marrying Dave, much to Asa's disgust. Dave is difficult and antagonistic. He and Asa have a hard time figuring out how to exist in the same household. However, Asa is a talented athlete and Dave turns out to be a good coach. It is only through the various sports that Asa and Dave achieve any kind of communication. Even that is fraught with danger as Dave's ego is easily bruised and he sometimes reacts violently. During this period of time, Asa's mother sinks into frequent bouts of depression and has to be institutionalized for months at a time.

In the third vignette, Asa determines to excel in baseball and Dave helps out although not with the same enthusiasm he has shown with other sports. Then Dave hurts Asa with a deliberate pitch. When Asa'a mother sees the bruise, she gamely takes over as Asa's practice partner. Then she tries to kill herself and has to be hospitalized again.

The last vignette is the most heart-wrenching. The family has moved frequently but now has stayed put for two years. Asa has begun to feel at home. He is in love with Jean, a lovely schoolmate who seems to like him. Too shy to approach her for months, Asa is encouraged by his mother to consider love a gift whether or not it is returned. He finally stands in front of Jean and declares, "I love you." To his delight and amazement, Jean sends her friend over to him with two candy hearts wrapped in a napkin. Each heart declares, "I love you." Asa is ecstatic. He returns home only to find that his mother and Dave are splitting up and he is moving again. Both he and Dave are relieved that their difficult relationship is at an end. Dave, however, declares that he loves Asa and waits for Asa to state that he returns the love. Asa cannot. Asa does however call Jean to tell her that he will treasure the hearts she sent him. Crushing him to the quick, Jean asks, "What hearts?"

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