When My Heart Joins the Thousand, by A.J. Steiger
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Publisher: Harper Teen
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Length: 352 pages
Times Read: 1
Rating: Heavier than I expected, but highly recommend
Obviously I’m not what most people would describe as happy. But that has nothing to do with anything. Happiness is not a priority. Survival is.
Alvie Fitz doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care. She’s spent years swallowing meds and bad advice from doctors and social workers. Adjust, adapt. Pretend to be normal. It sounds so easy.
If she can make it to her eighteenth birthday without any major mishaps, she’ll be legally emancipated. Free. But if she fails, she’ll become a ward of the state and be sent back to the group home.
All she wants is to be left alone to spend time with her friend, Chance, the one-winged hawk at the zoo where she works. She can bide her time with him until her emancipation. Humans are overrated anyway. Then she meets Stanley, a boy who might be even stranger than she is—a boy who walks with a cane, who turns up every day with a new injury, whose body seems as fragile as glass. Without even meaning to, she finds herself getting close to him. But Alvie remembers what happened to the last person she truly cared about.
Her past stalks her with every step, and it has sharp teeth. But if she can find the strength to face the enemy inside her, maybe she’ll have a chance at happiness after all.
What I Liked: Sometimes I buy books without looking at the synopsis too closely, and this was one of them. I loved the cover and was intrigued by the title, though I had no idea what it meant (Spoiler Alert–if you suspect it has something to do with Watership Down, you’re right). Page one is a cold open to a very interesting hotel room scene, but we’re quickly moved 3 weeks back in the timeline, to Alvie watching Stanley in the park.
We have one main character with autism and another with osteogenesis imperfecta, and while I can’t speak from personal experiences, they felt authentic to me. There’s always a concern with books like this that the author will use these differences only as a plot device, and that’s definitely not what happened here. What we got instead were two well-rounded characters full of personality.
And Stanley, oh precious Stanley…I just wanted to wrap him up in a very careful hug while his latest break heals. This is the first book I’ve read with an adult who has OI (if you want a good book with a child’s experience, try Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult), and I really felt for him. He was so kind and generous, and so genuinely understanding of Alvie. She’s not an easy person to love, but her autism isn’t an issue for him. He doesn’t love her “even though”, he just loves her.
The sexy times in this book were really well done. Both Alvie and Stanley are virgins, and for once we have a male character who’s not ready yet, and a female who has to be patient. There’s also an incredible amount of talk about consent due to Alvie’s aversion to touch and Stanley’s childhood abuse. There’s no fade to black, but we also see the characters actually talk about sex, about what they do and don’t want. It’s a really sex-positive book, and we need more like it in YA.
Throughout the book we also get a lot of exposure to past abuse that both characters suffered, in different forms. There’s a lot of familial abuse on both sides, and it was sad and hard to read at times, but ultimately an important conversation. It’s a heavy book, and there isn’t a lot to lighten it.
What I Didn’t: It was hard to be in Alvie’s head sometimes, but I can’t say that I really didn’t like it, because it was so important to us as readers to know what she was thinking, to know how she felt about what we consider to be “normal” everyday things. It was hard to stop thinking “just get through your shift already, just embellish your answer”, but that’s what made it so important. The fact is that those things are hard for Alvie, and sometimes impossible.
Final Thoughts: I highly recommend this book. It’s heavy and emotional, but this isn’t your average contemporary novel, and it’s really well done.
Favorite Quotes: “The truth has a way of coming out, sooner or later. The best you can do is choose the time and place.”