Heartbeat

by Sharon Creech (2004)

Heartbeat is the second book by Sharon Creech to tell a story through poetry. Creech’s verse reads like beautiful prose written in stanza form, making it easy to read and digest.

Heartbeat marries the accessible, poetic, instructive style of Creech’s Love That Dog with the complexity of themes in her 1994 Newbery Award-winning Walk Two Moons.  Love That Dog is a writing teacher’s dream, but it essentially involves three themes. Heartbeat, like Walk Two Moons, has six interwoven themes, all told through clear, bold poems.

Annie is a 12-year-old who likes to run. And write. And draw. She has a moody male friend who only likes to run. She’s not sure what will happen to that relationship as she ages. She has a mother who is pregnant. And a grandfather whose memory is failing. It is Creech’s skill to weave these themes together, allowing the development of her protagonist’s running to comment on her peer relationships. Or her art to illuminate her feelings about herself, toward her family members, or about the world at large. All of this is rendered in Annie’s first person voice via the short poetic structure of Love That Dog. There are circle of life issues (the new baby and the aging grandfather’s memories). There are patient perspective on life issues (Annie is asked to draw an apple one hundred different ways). Wait until you see what happens when Annie learns how to use footnotes. Or a Thesaurus!

A few quick excerpts to give you the flavor…

From a poem called ‘Perspective’:

The first ten looked pretty much alike
which was starting to bother me

and then one day when I was
out running
I glanced at budding branches overhead
and was thinking about spring
and the coming of new leaves
and how I usually see the undersides of leaves
and I would have to climb the trees
to see the leaves from the top

and I thought of my apple.

Here is one way she sees her running mate::

Max stands with his arms crossed
defiant
scowling.

He runs with his head down
not speaking
sullen
tense.

(You can ask you readers how to use this poetic prose…)

And from a poem simply called ‘Apple’:

Sometimes I can stare at one tiny patch
of my apple
for the longest time
and the more I study it
the more I see in that one little patch:
the smallest indentations
multiple colors
flecks and spots —
a miniature landscape.

Heartbeat is a unique way to learn of the work of Sharon Creech.  It gives readers a chance to enjoy a novel with accomplished, layered themes that speak to more than one generation and that partake of more than one discipline.  And, readers will experience poetry as a new way to look at prose.

Creech’s achievement in this novel is to blend an impressive array of themes and tell a story in a brisk 180 pages – through the medium of unforgettable and accessible poetry.