The Space Between Heartbeats, by Melissa Pearl

After finishing a book I really enjoyed, I was waiting for another book I ordered to arrive. I needed something quick to read in the meantime, and though I found something on my Kindle, I read it too quickly—within 12 hours. I still had four more days to wait, so I scrolled through my Kindle to see what else I had purchased until I found this book. I remembered that the premise seemed interesting enough, and it looked like it would be a relatively quick read.

I was correct on both counts.

First the basic plot: After going to a weeknight “study group”—code for a drinking party—Nicole Tepper wakes up the next morning in really bad condition. Is she hungover? Nope. Much worse than that. Her parents don’t acknowledge her presence, but they talk about her like her absence is completely normal. Her hand swipes through solid matter—including her mother—as if she’s a ghost.

She gets to school, and her popular-clique friends can’t see or hear her either. They talk some serious smack about her behind her back, even thinking that she finally had the nerve to run away from home. But if she’s nothing more than a free-floating consciousness, then where’s her body? Is she already dead? Or is she clinging to life somewhere?

Well, one person can hear her. His name is Dale Finnegan, and Nicole and her friends had mocked him ever since he moved to their school. But why him? A connection between the two of them is provided, early enough in the story so it seems natural and believable enough.

Nicole intermittently returns to her body, abandoned somewhere in the woods on the outskirts of town. She’s still alive—barely—and the story becomes a race against time. She and Dale try to solve the mysteries of where she is and how she got there. Was it her own carelessness and/or recklessness? An accident? Or something more nefarious?

The premise and plot of this book are very good. The pacing is great, and for the first half of the book or so, I was kept guessing about what happened to Nicole. Once I figured it out—ahead of Nicole and Dale—it was still interesting because of the building stakes of utilizing that information to find her location while her life clock is ticking.

Despite this decent plot, I had a difficult time connecting with the characters. At the start of the book, she’s pretty nasty—not just to Dale, but to her so-called friends and parents. She breaks curfew, she has stolen and used her father’s credit card, so she’s not particularly sympathetic. She has a past family secret—almost obligatory in YA contemporary novels—and though I can kinda see how it made her how she was, it didn’t seem unique enough for this unique plot.

I understand the decision to make Nicole a bit of a bad girl. She’s given an opportunity for growth and redemption through being able to see both how her friends really act and how her parents react to her disappearance. And the themes of being kind and not taking your life and family for granted is a strong one. But the execution feels forced, particularly in some of the dialogue directed toward her “friends” at the end of the book.

It’s implied that Dale has a bad streak as well, but when it’s partially shown, he still comes across as a good—if somewhat bland—guy. Even he has a past family secret, but it doesn’t feel as integrated into his character as it could be. Also, it’s a given that Nicole and Dale will develop feelings for each other, yet the dialogue in the romantic scenes is a little stilted.

Nicole’s friends are variations of YA stereotypes, but I really liked how her parents were portrayed. They showed the most development through the story, which was a welcome surprise because their growth was shown through Nicole’s first-person narrated eyes.

Though I feel that the characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could be, the story’s plot builds quite well with good rhythm. There’s a little too much space between the characters’ inconsistent hearts and the plot’s strong beats, so I give The Space Between Heartbeats THREE AND A HALF STARS.

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The Space Between Heartbeats is available at Amazon.

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