Summary: Trying to getting in contact with her absent father even though her mother refers to him as ‘the sperm donor,’ Dylan is understandably surprised when her father comes into her life out of the blue on his own. But there’s a reason why he has suddenly appeared – his three year-old daughter needs a bone marrow transplant, and there’s a chance that Dylan may be a match. Thrust into an impossible situation, Dylan begins learning secrets about her parents’ past she never knew, all while dealing with the normal challenges of being a teenager.
Number of Pages: 272
Age Range: 15-17
Review: Sixteen year-old Dylan is a complex character. While author Robin Stevenson sets her up as a bit dark and broody, more of a pessimist than a realist or an optimist, Dylan’s first act in the book is one of hope and faith. She makes her family take their yearly photograph so it can be sent to the father who has never contacted her. Ever.
But even after sixteen years of no contact, Dylan keeps sending out her photographs into the void, hoping the void will answer back. This isn’t an act of pessimism, but of clinging to hope and wanting connection.
Of course it turns out to be infinitely more complicated than simply a daughter trying to reach an unresponsive father. Unbeknownst to Dylan, her mother has been working behind the scenes to keep Dylan and her father apart, until she can’t anymore.
It’s messy and complicated and in true Stevenson style, the adults in the story are not fully grown up themselves. Dylan is dealing with a mother whose actions are heavily influenced by personal pain as opposed to what is best for her daughter. Her father seems to be motivated by saving the daughter he has known instead of by wanting to get to know Dylan.
In the midst of Dylan’s drama with her parents and her internal struggle about potentially playing a role in saving her half sister, life goes on. Dylan is in high school going out with her first boyfriend and discovering that perhaps she isn’t as interested in sex as others are. Perhaps it’s because she hasn’t met the right person, or perhaps it is because there is something about her sexuality Dylan isn’t quite ready to face yet. Regardless, Dylan must still deal with the day-to-day stressors of life: school, fighting with her best friend and taking care of her family.
There’s one part of Stevenson’s book that I’m still turning over in my head. I know the hummingbird tattoos are matching between Dylan’s mother and father and they actually came about in a random fashion, but Dylan’s mother tells her the hummingbird is because when she heard Dylan’s heart beating in her womb, and it reminded her of a hummingbird’s heart. Dylan eventually learns her mother’s story is made up, but Stevenson is exploring the theme of the stories we tell ourselves and each other to get by. I was fascinated because for Dylan’s mother, the story becomes true. Sometimes fiction is preferable to fact, and Stevenson’s story makes me wonder if at times, it’s okay to embrace the lie instead of the truth or if truth can be retroactive in nature.
Dylan grapples with many issues in an authentic way, and I truly enjoyed accompanying her on the journey.
“Sometimes I’d be doing this, waiting for time to pass, and I’d get a sudden clutch of anxiety. Every second that passed was gone forever. Every minute, every hour, every day. It was awful, imagining all that time slipping away, all those seconds rushing past in an unstoppable roaring stream. I could almost hear it when I closed my eyes. Racing toward the grave. I mean, of course everyone knew we were all going to die eventually, but no one else ever seemed to think about it.” – Dylan from Hummingbird Heart by Robin Stevenson, page 11
“I felt the ground shift beneath me. A flicker of sympathy – after all, I didn’t know what I wanted either – and then a flood of anger. Why couldn’t she just get it together and be reliable for once? With everything else that was going on, shouldn’t I at least be able to count on my mother to be sane and solid and predictable?” – Dylan from Hummingbird Heart by Robin Stevenson, page 163
“Maybe he really was thinking nothing.
I couldn’t imagine it. ‘How does a person think nothing?’ I wanted to ask him. ‘Can you really do it? Just switch off that stream of images and words and worries?’ It sounded like heaven to me.” – Dylan from Hummingbird Heart by Robin Stevenson, page 197