SUMMARY: When a bomb detonates inside the busy atrium at Edison High, injuries to students and faculty are catastrophic: nine are dead and many more are badly injured. Red Heart Tattoo chronicles a year in the lives of affected students, both before and after the bomb changed their lives forever.
REVIEW: Let’s start by saying that, in this case, I am a biased reviewer. I read my first Lurlene McDaniel novel as a sixth grader, around 25 years ago. I loved her then, and I love her now. McDaniel has decades-long staying power for a reason: she knows how to make readers feel her stories. I recommend McDaniel’s books in my library frequently; being short, interesting, and full of romance, her books are an easy sell for girls looking for problem fiction.
Red Heart Tattoo will not disappoint readers who love serious circumstances infused with hope and healing. While inspirational, Red Heart Tattoo is not religious or secular; it makes no mention of God or church, which helps to widen its general audience. McDaniel holds back lots of surprises and gives just enough hints for many readers to figure them out before they are revealed. I love the way Morgan tackles her blindness and, despite some moments of weakness, doesn’t let it hinder her goals. I also love how some characters adjust to their new disabilities better than others, but eventually, all the characters work toward healing.
While Red Heart Tattoo started off a little slowly for me, I had difficulty putting it down once the bomb detonated. The first 80 or so pages give multiple characters’ back-stories, and it is a little hard keeping them straight. I kept wondering whose story was the main one (I initially thought it would be Kelli’s story), but that resolved itself after the bomb detonation. The characters are pretty stereotypical (the popular girl, the jock boyfriend, the troubled cheerleader, the “bad” boy, the goth chick, etc.), but readers will grow to care about the them, especially as some manage to break out of their stereotypical roles.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Despite stock characters and a somewhat slow first section, Red Heart Tattoo ends up a page-turner with characters that readers will care about. Inspirational with a message of hope after a life-changing and senseless tragedy.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: Oh, I will so be getting this book when it comes out in July. The development of “good” girl Morgan’s relationship with “bad” boy Roth makes this a great middle school alternative to Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry, which I believe is too racy for middle school libraries.
READALIKES: anything by Lurlene McDaniel, Hate List (Jennifer Brown), Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult), Shooter (Walter Dean Myers)
- Overall: 4/5
- Creativity: 3/5
- Characters: 3/5
- Engrossing: 4/5
- Writing: 4/5
- Appeal to teens: 5/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: none
- Sexuality: mild-medium–several kissing scenes and touching under a girl’s pajama top
- Violence: mild-medium–bomb detonates and kills/injures many; mostly pretty mild except for one vivid description toward the end that may bother more sensitive readers
- Drugs/Alcohol: mild– teen boy sneaks away from dance to drink with buddies; two teens drink vodka from father’s liquor cabinet, one says he “does it all the time”