Lio Min’s Beating Heart Baby is an “achingly romantic” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) love letter to internet friendships, anime, and indie rock
When artistic and sensitive Santi arrives at his new high school, everyone in the wildly talented marching band welcomes him with open arms. Everyone except for the prickly, proud musical prodigy Suwa, who doesn’t think Santi has what it takes to be in the band.
But Santi and Suwa share painful pasts, and when they open up to each other, a tentative friendship begins. And soon, that friendship turns into something more. . . .
Will their fresh start rip at the seams as Suwa seeks out a solo spotlight, and both boys come to terms with what it’ll take, and what they’ll have to let go, to realize their dreams?
Thank you Flatiron Books, a branch of MacMillan for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Honestly, where do I even begin. Whenever I am asked to read something I was unaware of previously, it’s usually quite the toss up as to what kind of book it’ll be. But let’s just say (as you can tell by the rating already), that I didn’t really have many expectations going in, but I found so much more than I wanted reading this book. I definitely recommend this one. Don’t be fooled by its slightly eccentric title, it truly does have a lot to offer!
Beating Heart Baby revolves around two parts, labelled “Side A” and “Side B.” Our two protagonists are the ones who will take one POV each. The first protagonist is Santiago, who moves into a new high school where for the first time he feels like he may belong. Welcomed by all except (you guessed it) our second protagonist, Suwa, who seems to take a disliking to him instantly. Both of them share quite a pained history, and it is through that connection where they find friendship and maybe something more. Truly a story of coming-of-age among so many other varied themes, this one is bound to leave you in an emotional state as you read through two stories you just can’t help but feel for.
The characters were amazing. Of course with a 5 Drink Me Potion rating, it’s unsurprising that probably everything in this book can be labelled amazing. But really, the characters were so real, and even those struggling with problems I was unfamiliar with, really made me feel like I could understand a little bit better. Just for the record there are a lot of LGBTQ+ themes being explored by the author in this book, which I felt was executed masterfully through the portrayal of its characters. Nothing was forced, everything was natural as it feels like teenagers might face, rather than having it spoon-fed (read: preached) to us as readers.
The plot was also excellent. There were a couple of times where I predicted an outcome, but then I also remembered I’m not reading a thriller/murder mystery. That being said there really is this element of suspense which drives the book forward, and once the story gets going, it is really hard to stop. There are a few (minor) time skips in the story, or at least where it’s a bit more ambiguous how much time has passed, but I felt like this was a good way of also accelerating the story and making it feel like a seamless transition as time passes in the book.
Again, I can’t stress enough how I felt like the message of the book was good. There were the supportive characters, and of course the “villains.” However, I felt like problems were touched upon delicately, and it really gave me a chance to understand a perspective I really previously had little idea about. It felt like such a personal story, yet had these elements of incredulity as Suwa attempts to rise to stardom. Overall it just felt like a bit of a (dark) fairytale, and you really do get a glimpse into another’s life and I felt that this was really well executed and probably the part that blew me away the most.
The ending was also not sappy, which was honestly what I was expecting at this kind of book. It was appropriate, and again, explores another theme (which I will not spoil). Overall I think it was the pacing of the book, the realness of the characters, the learning component, all tied together by a great ending really makes for the “magic” that deserves a 5 Drink Me Potion review and I happily award it here. Again, I highly recommend this!
Read this. I think all could benefit from reading a story like this. Jest aside, Beating Heart Baby is a wonderful tale of two protagonists who navigate the difficult pasts together and find solace in each other’s company. What blossoms and grows is only a matter of what you put in, and the dynamics between these two characters are carefully and expertly woven over a coming-of-age story. Packed full of sombre and important themes, it is still a ray of sunshine as you follow the two stumble through their way in life, trying to find their way. Full of complex characters that are hard to forget, this one is a must read!