Rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I’d seen a lot of comparisons to The Fault in Our Stars before I started this book, but to be honest I don’t think there’s any comparison: Instructions For a Second-Hand Heart is my winner all day long. It has all the emotion of TFIOS, but with less pretentiousness and better characters. It follows Johnny, who has received a new heart after being kept alive by a Berlin heart; it also follows Niamh, whose brother was Johnny’s organ donator, as she finds a way to live without her twin.
Tamsyn Murray covers so many grounds in one story, and she does it in a way that doesn’t diminish any of the other themes. They are all complex, and are perfectly explored. She manages to capture the complex feelings and struggles that a teenager who has grown up in hospital faces upon their discharge; the relief at being free, but the fear of being out in the real world. As someone who spent two years of my teenage life in hospital, and nearly all of them battling with my mental health, I greatly appreciate an author being able to capture a feeling I have with words when I can’t find them.
When you spend the early years of your life with an illness, you kind of imagine yourself becoming that illness; even now, I can’t really imagine myself not being the anorexic. In this book, Johnny struggles to adjust to his new life outside of hospital; he doesn’t know what he likes to wear, or what he likes to do; his drawing feels like a ‘hospital thing’ (which honestly nearly made me cry because YES!!!!! I didn’t even realise this was a thing, but I used to be a card shark and a jigsaw whizz when I was in hospital, and whereas I do sometimes miss it, it will forever be one of my hospital things). Johnny’s innocence and desperation to fit in made me want to cry, even if some of his decisions did make me want to slap him.
Our female lead, Niamh, is complicated and often difficult to like; she’s moody and judgemental and pushes people away. But she’s spent her entire life living in her twin – Leo’s – shadow, and so she has built walls to protect herself. Even after the tragic accident that took her brother away from her, Niamh still has complicated feelings towards him, which I loved because more often than not, people forget the bad points of a person after they’ve died. Niamh’s relationship with Leo was heartbreaking, but so realistic.
As someone who works within the cardiology department at my local hospital, and as someone whose brother had open heart surgery when he was born, I had high expectations for this book – and by god were they met. I absolutely loved it.