How's this for a hot mess: Ellen's in love with her older brother's best friend, James. No, wait—James is her brother's boyfriend. Er… no he isn't? Yes he is? Yeesh. Welcome to the McConnell household.
As you might've guessed, My Heartbeat, by Garret Freymann-Weyr, explores teenage sexuality in some pretty major ways. We're talking crushes, virginity, the stakes of being gay, what it even means to be gay, and more. Published in 2002, being gay in My Heartbeat is far more complicated and high stakes than Ellen initially realizes. And as she struggles to understand her old brother and his hang-ups about his own sexual orientation, she taps into her own burgeoning sexuality, too.
My Heartbeat won the Printz Award, which is a pretty impressive feat. It was recognized mainly for it's brave exploration of homosexuality and how it impacts our three protagonists, which is interesting, because that is not what Freymann-Weyr set out to do. As she's said:
I had set out to write a novel of loyalty and betrayal, to examine how little we know the people we love. Since several of my teachers, many of my parents' work colleagues, and three of my best friends in college were gay, I had never really thought about homosexuality as something other than a fact, albeit one with its own history, culture and struggle. It didn't strike me as being central to the book, and yet it was the novel's treatment of Link and James' sexual desire that most readers found interesting. Quite often there is a gap between the book that is written and the book which is read.
Regardless of her intent, Freymann-Weyr wrote a book that has resonated with millions of teens across the world. How could it not? Sexuality and the conundrums it presents are a key part of growing up for pretty much everyone. The book is a tender examination of prejudice, acceptance, and unconditional love that continues to ring true today.
If you or someone you love is gay, then caring about My Heartbeat is basically a no-brainer. After all, it gets up close and personal with some of the harder parts of growing up gay (particularly back in the early 2000s), taking a hard look at how prejudice works and exploring its impact on people's lives.
But what if you feel like you don't really know any gay people? Why should you care about this book? Well, here's why: Gay people exist. Like, big time. And even if you think you don't know anyone who's gay, chances are pretty good you actually do. And My Heartbeat is a chance to really dig into what it can be like to grow-up gay, particularly in a family that isn't wholly accepting of non-straight sexual orientations.
In other words, this book can be so helpful in many ways—to people who have no idea the various issues facing gay teenagers exist, to people who are currently struggling with them, and for people who can relate to what James, Ellen, and Link go through based on their own pasts.
So even though My Heartbeat takes place in the time before smartphones (and heavily features VHS tapes), it will resonate with anyone who wants to connect with what it's like to know or be someone who is having a hard time with their sexual identity.
Garret Freymann-Weyr's Official Website
This is the best place to find information about the author, but we're warning you: It's frustratingly not as in-depth as some of the other author pages we've seen.
Freymann-Weyr's Official Blog
This site is probably the best one for getting any information about the comparatively reclusive author.
She Used to Have a Facebook Page
Although the last post is from 2012, looking at her public Facebook page reveals some pretty cool things about Freymann-Weyr, directly from her fingers to your eyes.
Going to the Chapel
Check out this blast from the past (by which we mean the 1990s): It's Freymann-Weyr's wedding announcement.
Keith Haring Approved
Okay, Haring actually died long before the book came out, but still—this cover totally shouts out to his work.
This is the cover for the book's re-release ten years after its initial publication.