“He felt like he’d stepped into a storybook and found his happily ever after.” – J.P. Barnaby
Author: J.P. Barnaby
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 214 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: Celebrated Young Adult author Julian Holmes pits the heroic characters in his Black Heart series against all different kinds of monsters. But when a critical heart defect threatens his son’s life, he finds he has no champion. No amount of books, classes, or practice can prepare Julian for the fight to save his beautiful son’s life.
Suddenly there are hospitals, transplant lists, and the nightmare of insurance red tape to navigate. In the midst of his trouble, Julian meets Simon Phelps, the insurance coordinator for Robbie’s case. Simon lives so deep in the closet he might never find his way out, but he dreams of exactly what Julian has. Then one night, drunken need and desperation brings them together, and a new fight begins.
Review: Anyone who knows the story behind the story of A Heart for Robbie knows this is a novel that’s very close to JP Barnaby’s own heart, and reading this novel with the bias of a parent is heart-wrenching. Reading this novel with the objectivity of a reviewer is uplifting. Reading this novel simply as a human being, parent or not, is an emotional paradox. It’s an odd juxtaposition to look at a book from such divergent points of view, but it’s one of the things that makes A Heart for Robbie a beautiful experience—as a parent, I empathized with Julian Holmes and the agony he experiences throughout the journey to save his son; as a human being I felt so much compassion for Julian’s experience and the horrific possibility of losing a child, all the inadequacy and helplessness and anger and terror that goes along with it, especially the overwhelming guilt of knowing that another child must die in order for your child to live; as a reader I was elated the author was able to rewrite the ending she didn’t get in life, and give her characters all the joy and happiness that can be found when miracles happen. But that’s the true beauty of fiction, isn’t it, the ability to give a happy ending to the realities that aren’t always so benevolent or forgiving in real life?
The emotional contrast that works so well in A Heart for Robbie is the love story not only between a father and his son but also between Julian and Simon Phelps, the hospital’s insurance coordinator and a man who, for reasons of professional ethics, should’ve been off limits. Though Simon never denies his sexuality to himself—he’s fully accepted that he’s a gay man—he very much hides it from his co-workers, friends, family, and I have to confess that I worried a bit about how JP Barnaby would work that conflict into a story that was already so heavy with emotion, but the answer is that Julian and Simon falling in love was woven into the story perfectly, giving the plot the balance it needed between hope and heartache. When Simon finally meets Julian and the two men realize there’s a spark there, the fact that Julian is able to find happiness during one of the most terrifying ordeals any parent can face was the perfect contrast to Simon’s fear of coming out. When Simon is given the opportunity to put things into perspective, it was a moment that made me want to cheer for him.
A Heart for Robbie isn’t what I’d call a light summer read, but it is a story where light is found in a dark time. There are so many things that make this book highly recommendable: JP Barnaby makes certain that all the while she’s breaking your heart just a little, she’s also working hard to stitch it back together again, which is very much what she does for Julian. There is no angst for the sake of angst, but there is love for the sake of love, hope for the sake of hope, and happiness for the sake of a parent’s love for his child. There are tears and there are smiles, there are smiles through tears—Julian’s, Simon’s, and yes, maybe I shed a few myself, but there’s no better way to get to a happily ever after, as far as I’m concerned, than to feel my way to it one word at a time, and that’s what this book does.