About The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini:
EVERY SUPERHERO NEEDS TO START SOMEWHERE…
Dale Sampson is used to being a nonperson at his small-town Midwestern high school, picking up the scraps of his charismatic lothario of a best friend, Mack. He comforts himself with the certainty that his stellar academic record and brains will bring him the adulation that has evaded him in high school. But when an unthinkable catastrophe tears away the one girl he ever had a chance with, his life takes a bizarre turn as he discovers an inexplicable power: He can regenerate his organs and limbs.
When a chance encounter brings him face to face with a girl from his past, he decides that he must use his gift to save her from a violent husband and dismal future. His quest takes him to the glitz and greed of Hollywood, and into the crosshairs of shadowy forces bent on using and abusing his gift. Can Dale use his power to redeem himself and those he loves, or will the one thing that finally makes him special be his demise? The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a darkly comic, starkly original take on the superhero tale, introducing an exceptional new literary voice in Fred Venturini.
My two centsMy first thought putting this down: now that was weird. But I loved it, in a weird, wonderful way.
This felt like two books in one. The first part is all lad lit, in an innocent annoying sort of way. We are introduced to Dale Sampson, poor, the only son of a single mom sick with cancer, who is basically a nobody in his school and his town in the Midwest. He meets Mack, a star athlete, who unexpectedly sticks up for him, and they become fast friends.
By default, Dale's life is entwined in Mack's. Their lives revolve around Dale trying to fit into Mack's cool kid world, finding hot girls, and showing up their jock tormentors. But one day, in the midst of all the usual teenage drama, something shockingly disturbing happens ... and Dale discovers that his body can regenerate. Break a bone or two, no problem. Chop off his hand, it just grows back (cue Twilight Zone theme).
Which brings us to the second part which made for a more fast-paced story. This defining event is where Dale crosses into adulthood and where the book turns even more bizarre. With nowhere to go in life, Dale eventually decides to capitalize on his strange ability. He becomes the star of the strangest reality show ever, The Samaritan, where Dale donates body parts to those needing them, all captured on TV of course. People around his new celebrity make for a toxic mix of greed, ambition, and benevolence and while another whole other love story arc plays itself out, Dale has to make some tough decisions on where he wants to end up in his life.
***The premise is all sci-fi'y and fantasy. It is also quite gritty, dark. I really enjoyed the originality of the premise of this book: a regenerating human being sounds like something that should be in X-Men, not in a literary read like this. When I was starting the book, I didn't quite know what to make of all the hints of Dale's powers every time he got involved in a skirmish. Creative and very unexpected!
I guess I just wasn't paying attention since I was really feeling the whole spin on friendship, first love and love lost, parental love and of coming-of-age. This storyline in itself would've been "good enough" of a read for me.
But no, Venturini pushes the envelope. I love him for taking the risk because it has made the story nothing like I've ever read, and certainly elevated it to another level. The introduction of Dale's superpower gives us a hyper-real, surreal story.
The weird spin on the regeneration theme is replete with metaphors for life, how life is lived, and what it means to use one's gift to benefit others. The power of regeneration becomes both a blessing and a curse. Dale initially thinks that his power will get him out of the hellhole he lives in. But while it brings him the much-needed cash, it complicates his life and he is forced to make decisions that test the balance between a selfless existence versus a life of what makes him truly happy.
This is weird. This is dark. This is lad lit. This is romance. This is sci-fi. It's all that and more because it's got a lot of heart and a lot of reality in the surreal.
***Potential spoilers (will be as cryptic as possible): I loved the whole "twin spin." I always knew about R, deep inside. Dale was just dense ;)
I was initially pissed off though at the turn of events but now that I've let this percolate a bit more, I don't think I'd have it any other way. Alternate endings would just spoil it.
Warning: There are some rather graphic descriptions of general violence and sexual violence which may make for some uncomfortable reading. Good thing it is concentrated in just one part of the book and you can move on quickly.
Verdict: When you think you've read the weirdest book, I urge you to pick this up. Read it: weird, dark, lad lit, sci-fi, romance. It's all that and more because it's got a lot of heart and a lot of reality in the surreal. Loved this book and highly recommend to anyone looking for a dose of heart in their sci-fi reading (I hope you got the pun, if it wasn't obvious!)
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