________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 25. . . .March 2, 2012


Hummingbird Heart.

Robin Stevenson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2012.
272 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-390-0.

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Kim Aippersbach.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Mom's hummingbird tattoo was green with a flash of red at its throat, wings spread mid-beat as it hovered forever at her wrist. Because of the sound of my heartbeat in utero, she'd said. I'd looked it up once and found out that a hummingbird heart actually beats at about ten times the rate of a fetal heart. But the idea had been nice anyway.

Until I found out that the whole story was just one more lie.

I wondered if she was planning to tell me about Casey or if she was just going to let her die without even giving me a chance to try to help. She was pretty irresponsible sometimes, but I wouldn't have though she could be that selfish.


Dylan is 16-years-old, the same age her mother was when she was born. She has never met her father. According to her mother, he was a one-night stand, and he has no interest in getting to know his daughter. When he calls one day to say he's in town and would like to meet, Dylan is confused but hopeful. After a brief meeting that her mother cuts short angrily, Dylan goes back to see her father on her own. He tells her that he has another daughter, Casey, Dylan's half-sister; Casey has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant, and Dylan might be compatible. At first, Dylan is devastated that the only reason her father contacted her was to see if she could save his "real" daughter. She decides to go ahead with the blood test anyway, and she begins to hope that she is a match and can do this heroic thing. In the meantime, Dylan has an awkward first experience with a boyfriend and has some rocky moments with her best friend. Then Dylan finds out that her mother never told her father about her, and he only found out he had a daughter by accident, through a mutual old friend. Dylan is furious at her mother for lying to her all her life, but finding out the truth allows her to trust her father's genuine interest in getting to know her. In the end, an anonymous donor is found for Casey, but the beginnings of a father-daughter relationship have been established.

      Hummingbird Heart is a well-written exploration of complex family relationships. Dylan lives with her single mom and her adopted younger sister, Karma—the child of her mother's friend who died in a drunk driving accident. Her mom has a string of boyfriends; Karma likes the current one, but Dylan is sure he won't last long. Dylan has always envied "normal" families like her best friend Toni's, but Toni's parents are getting divorced. The only intact nuclear family in the novel is Dylan's father with his wife and Casey, and now Dylan is complicating it. Stevenson offers no judgments or morals about the various family scenarios; she simply shows the emotional effect on a teenage girl who has to navigate them.

      First person narrator Dylan is anxious and unsure. She worries about climate change and death and whether she wants to have sex and whether her friendship with Toni will last. She is occasionally irritating when she belabor her insecurities, but her confusion and angst will be familiar to adolescent readers. The adults in the novel are rounded people with their own flaws; not all of them are the best role models as Dylan makes decisions about sex, drugs, trust and compassion, but Dylan's relationships with them are realistic, and she learns as much from their mistakes as from their good examples.

      Hummingbird Heart will appeal to teenagers who like realistic drama, and the novel may be useful to parents or teachers who want to start a discussion about teenage sex, pregnancy or drug use.

      For concerned parents: Dylan and her friends (and her mother) consume alcohol and smoke pot, and Dylan's boyfriend drives his motorcycle while under the influence of both (and Dylan chooses to ride with him.)


Kim Aippersbach, a free-lance editor and writer with three children, lives in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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