A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti

bookph1le's review

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4.5 stars

This was such a good book, but so hard and devastating to read at times. RTC

Full review:

This book is so timely, it's painful. Many feminist books about female rage have been coming out as of late, and I've been reading many of them. This books correlates so closely with them that it's almost as if it were written to be read along with feminist works. There aren't enough words to express how glad I am that there are a flood of books dealing with women's rage and pain and loss and trauma coming out, and I'm particularly glad to see some targeted at a younger audience. Teen girls are at a critical phase, where they need to learn what behaviors are acceptable and that they are not responsible for the pain others choose to inflict on them, and teen boys need to learn how to respect girls' and women's agency. I don't want to be too spoiler-y in this review, but I don't really know how to address the central theme of this book without spoiling some aspects of it, so continue reading at your own risk.

The book opens with Annabelle taking off running from a fast food restaurant after experiencing some run-of-the-mill street harassment. This is a situation with which many women, young and old alike, can identify. I don't think I know a single woman who hasn't experienced being treated like a piece of meat rather than a human being, and it's enough to make almost any woman want to flee. Yet Annabelle's reaction is triggered by a traumatic experience, and once she starts running, she doesn't feel like she can stop. She doesn't run to make a statement, she doesn't run because she wants to become an advocate, she runs because that's just what she needs to do in order to deal with what she has suffered.

I appreciated that aspect of this book so much, and I also appreciated how it allowed Annabelle to process her trauma at her own pace. It does an astoundingly good job of portraying how thorny and confusing and contradictory the road to recovery can be. Annabelle isn't responsible for what happened, yet she feels like she is. She didn't cause the event to happen, yet she finds herself replaying every aspect of it over and over, looking for places where she could have done things differently, could have prevented what happened from happening. She is suffering a life sentence because of someone else's actions, forced to replay and relive unbearable moments because of something that was entirely out of her hands.

This is a rich vein to mine. I think there is a growing understanding and awareness of how differently boys and girls are socialized. Annabelle has internalized these messages. She's supposed to be sweet, kind, considerate. She isn't supposed to make anyone feel uncomfortable, even if the person she makes uncomfortable kicked the whole process off by making her uncomfortable. Her role is to be the peace-maker, the ultimate hostess, the one who attends to everyone's emotional needs and ensures that everyone has what they want and need at all times--at the expense of her own comfort and safety, if necessary.

One episode in the novel perfectly crystallizes this concept. In elementary school, Annabelle was essentially stalked by a boy. His behavior alarmed her, until she got to a point where she was so scared she reluctantly went to a teacher, a person she thought she could trust to help her out. Instead, the male teacher told her the boy just liked her, and that she should be nice to him.

I want readers to sit with that for a while. I'm by no means saying that only male teachers are guilty of this behavior. Female teachers and female adults in general are guilty of it too. I myself have been told in the past that the boy who pulls my hair, the boy who bullies me to the point of tears and despair, the boy who snaps my bra, just likes me, and I should be nice to him. This is such a destructive message, and one that can be difficult to unpack. For years I didn't understand the implications of it, that grown adults were telling me, a child, that if someone harasses and mistreats me, I should take it as a sign of affection. That is messed up beyond all comparison, and I hope most people would agree with that assessment.

So, naturally, when Annabelle gets older and meets another problematic boy, one she refers to as "The Taker", she doesn't quite know what to do. Flirting with him is fun, until it isn't. His attention is flattering, until it isn't. Annabelle knows she isn't entirely comfortable with this boy, but she can't really put her finger on why, and the whole reason why she can't put her finger on why is because society has gaslighted her into believing that if a boy makes her uncomfortable, it's probably because of something she's done. So she spends her time running in circles in her head, blaming herself for a boy who decided to cross the line over and over, even when she explicitly told him not to. If you're a woman, you've probably had this experience. If you're a man, I'm really glad you're reading this review, and I hope you've read this book. Now go ask a few women you know if they've been through similar experiences. I think you'll be surprised, and not in a good way.

Now, I'm not going to spoil the book by revealing the tragedy, although many readers will probably figure it out before the big reveal. I did--but that didn't make the reveal any less emotionally devastating for me. It's stayed with me for days, and I find myself thinking about it at unpredictable moments. As central as the tragedy is to the book, though, what the book is really about is how society has conditioned women to accept men's unwanted advances into their comfort zones. It's about how insidious rape culture is, how it takes the victim of a heinous crime and warps perspectives so that even if she understands she is not responsible, society picks her behavior apart and more or less blames her. It's the little girl stalked by a boy who has no respect for her boundaries. His discomfort is assigned a higher value than hers, and so she is told to live with her discomfort because making him uncomfortable would be too harsh a punishment. It's the view that leads judges to lament about a rapist's promising future rather than the lifelong trauma said rapist has inflicted on his victim.

This book is very nuanced and sensitive. Reading it was a painful experience for me because I could relate to so much of it. It made me remember all the times a man or a boy mistreated me, and how I simply accepted that mistreatment as part of my due because I am female. It reminded me of how half the human race is devalued by virtue of our gender. It reminded me of how tired I get of having to argue for my basic humanity to those who think the rights of men (and particularly white, straight men) should be more important than my rights.

I hope this book ends up in every school's library, and in high school ELA classes. There is so much to discuss here, so much fodder for deep talks about how problematic our misogynistic culture is. Young women (and not so young women, like yours truly) may find a great deal of relief in reading a book that helps elucidate those uneasy feelings they sometimes have around certain males.

But equally important is that boys read this book, that they understand that their rights do not supersede those of girls. Until men learn that they are not entitled to take what they want even if a woman doesn't want them to take it, things won't change. Until men learn women's affection and attention is not their right, everything will stay the same. The best way I can think of to convince men and boys of this is to have them walk a mile in a woman's or girl's shoes, and this book can be a valuable tool.

truthmonkey's review

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May book for Read around the US challenge (travel across the US).
I really wanted to love this book. I like books about personal journeys during an actual journey, and this was good at some parts of that. But the core purpose of her run unfolded too slowly and too late for a real sense of grappling with it. The new friend was…premature and weirdly timed. And the ending just kind of …happened? Some parts were sharp but overall disappointing.

jenhurst's review

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This book was not what I was expecting at all. It was very uplifting and I liked reading about the protagonists journey throughout the book. She was a cross country runner and felt like she had to run. So she ran across the country. Seattle to Washington DC. The whole time your wondering why is she running. It’s beautiful written and I think this book could really help someone if they read it at the right time.

thepetitepunk's review against another edition

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Deeply painful and real.

I’m not sure what to rate this book because I don’t like rating books that I’ve read over a longer span of time, but it would anywhere in the 4 or 4.5 or 5 star range.

I highly highly highly recommend the audiobook (if you want a good cry). This is such a great example of how an author can take huge social and political issues and make them so personal and close, rather than highlighting them in a too-big-to-be-touched manner.

✧ ✧ ✧

≪reading 31 books for 31 days of july≫
╰┈➤ 1. the ones we're meant to find by joan he
╰┈➤ 2. rise to the sun by leah johnson
╰┈➤ 3. some girls do by jennifer dugan
╰┈➤ 4. a heart in a body in the world by deb caletti

hgmcghee19's review

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Beautiful. Just. Wow.

morgob's review

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This was a really great story. It is super emotional, relatable, and creative, and at times the prose is poetic and has moments of greatness. Right off the bat, I will go over what I didn't like. One point is maybe not fair. The writing was kind of underwhelming at times. The reason I think it's unfair to point that out is because this is a young adult novel, so it's not necessarily meant for me as an audience, but that's just something that bothers me sometimes. The subject matters in the book are not at all juvenile, but the writing seemed like it for most of the book. Like I said, there were moments of greatness. The other thing that bothered me is you don't get to the "big secret" of the tragedy until the end, though it's hinted at several hundred times throughout. Maybe I'm being too critical of this, but it just seemed like it was hinted at and teased too much. I think if I found out sooner what actually happened, the book would have felt a bit more mature, rather than the cliché of keeping the audience waiting until the last minute and then telling us. It just seems more like a gimmick to keep the reader interested rather than a plot point (though I totally do understand what the author was trying to do, with the main character repressing the memories entirely, but it just didn't work or feel entirely convincing to me).
Otherwise, I thought it was a great story. I liked the characters, and, like I said, it was relatable.
Spoiler(I, too, have had a very creepy boy send me horrible letters when I rejected him because I didn't want to be more than friends. It gave me goosebumps at times because of the similarities.)
I really loved how the whole story really fit together. It wasn't just a book about running, it wasn't just a book about the tragedy of what happened, and it wasn't just a book about a girl feeling helpless and powerless in the world. It was all of it combined, and it really worked. I do wish there was a bit more about the running in it, but that's just because of who I am. Okay, one last thing to nitpick about. You can kind of tell that the author is not a runner. There are just some things that happen to the main character or some of the things she does that made me say, "Ok, that's not how that would have worked," or "She definitely should not wear that to run." Yeah, some of it was a bit obvious. Also, how not too much time was spent on the running, though that could have been just to make room for the rest of the story. Sorry, that just bugged me. Anyway, I really loved the story and the characters, especially Grandpa Ed. He was great. Shoutout to my bestie, Maya, for recommending this book to me our freshman year of college!

izzys_internet_bookshelf's review against another edition

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I found this book to be alright. There was a lot of commotion towards the end of the book. But leading up to that was the way the main character was trying to live with PTSD

kasylia's review against another edition

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adventurous challenging dark emotional funny hopeful informative inspiring reflective sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


gabrielle_erin's review

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This was such an interesting and unique story. I really enjoyed the non-linear style of the narrative, it kept me engaged in the story and felt like I was in the moment alongside Anabelle. Caletti touches on some really important topics in this book but I would have liked to have seen more commentary abusive relationships and gun violence as this is only implied throughout the book before being finally revealed in the last three chapters. The character development was believable and I really liked how the romantic relationships in the book were portrayed in light of the commentary on toxic relationships. Overall, a great read.

yumnas's review

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This is an awesome story of recovery and perseverance and staying true to who you are and what you stand for. *side note: it was slightly confusing at times because we don’t know what actually happened at the end so you’re not even sure why the main character is so upset. Maybe the whole point was to keep the reader guessing, but I was confused.