Review: Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza

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When Marlowe Jensen receives a heart transplant that saves her life, she is desperate to be seen as something other than The Dying Girl. She wants to blend in and she definitely doesn’t want to feel like she’s different. With her vegan-warrior mother, who is hell-bent on taking down the local butcher shop and convincing people that meat is murder, and her younger brother Pip with his fondness for theatrical costumes of the David Bowie variety, Marlowe already has a few ‘out there’ things to contend with. She wants to remove ‘The Dying Girl’ from her list.

Aside from the pressures of starting back at school after a major operation and dealing with the antics of Leo, the boy next door who works in the butcher shop, Marlowe is desperate to find her donor’s family. To meet them and to say thank you. To say sorry.

I loved Plozza’s previous novel, Frankie, which is what made me so keen to read Tin Heart. As a comparison, the two characters couldn’t be more different. Where Frankie is abrasive, Marlowe struggles with being timid. However, Plozza’s writing in Tin Heart is just as punchy and powerful, and you can’t help but be drawn into the world the characters are in straight away. Take this line from Tin Heart for example:

‘You know that moment when you’re standing in front of Bert’s Quality Butchers holding a speaker blasting ‘Meat is Murder’ and your mum is doing interpretative dance to express the heartbreak of a slaughtered cow and your ten-year-old brother, Pip, is handing out pamphlets for your family’s new vegan organic wellness store called Blissfully Aware and he’s dressed in a gingham pinafore, red wig, combat boots and tiger facepaint?’

Uh… not really. I can’t say that moment is something I’m familiar with, but sentences like this make me feel like I should be. They throw me straight into the action of the story, but Plozza uses this technique sparingly. If the entire book was made up of passages like this, I think I would find it a bit exhausting.

Marlowe’s mother, Kate, owner of the shop Blissfully Aware and a passionate animal rights advocate was one character that I found utterly infuriating throughout this book. The times when she calls out Marlowe for being selfish are arguably the times when Kate is behaving at her most selfish. She’s very much a ‘my way or the highway’ type of character, and while I get the sense that’s the type of personality you would need to adopt to get a family through the trauma of having one member desperately ill, she doesn’t seem to be able to adjust to the fact that Marlowe is no longer sick.

Tin Heart brings to life the complexities that come with organ donation with a compassionate eye. A major struggle for Marlowe is a sense of guilt that comes with receiving her donation – on the one hand, it’s saved her life, which is a cause for celebration. On the other hand, it’s meant another family has felt grief and pain for someone they have lost. How do you reconcile the two feelings?

If I were to compare the two novels, I probably would say Frankie just inches ahead as my favourite Plozza novel, but the margin is small. Tin Heart is a bittersweet story, with a lot of heart – and I mean that in every sense of the word.

Favourite Quote

‘People say the eyes are the windows into the soul but that’s crap. Books are.’

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