Book Review: Things We Know By Heart

Things We Know By Heart
Published By: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Page Count: 304
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary

Grief is one of those universal things that ties humanity together. At some point in our lives, we all have to face the loss of someone we love. How do you move past the one moment in time when everything changes? How do you find a way to wade through the loss and find your way to more stable ground? Can you ever truly move on from such pain?

Quinn Sullivan seems to have it all - a supportive family, the ideal high school experience, and the perfect boyfriend. Trent is one of those boyfriends we all dream about, but few of us actually get to experience. It appears that Quinn may be one of those girls who finds her great love as a teenager. She knows that one day she will become his wife and she can't wait to see what the future will bring, but that all changes one beautiful day when a tragic accident rips Trent from Quinn's life forever. Quinn begins to drown in her grief and she stops moving forward. Her stagnant existence leads to the loss of friends, a senior year of high school spent largely in her bedroom, and missed college application deadlines. Why should Quinn keep moving forward when Trent can't? In many ways, Quinn views herself as a widow. Her heart stopped beating the moment Trent's did and she can't figure out how to start it up again.

The one thing that gives Quinn comfort is writing to the individuals who benefitted from Trent's death through organ donations. She even meets a few of the recipients in person and finds that knowing that they have a chance at life because of Trent does ease the pain a little. One recipient never responds to Quinn's letter and she can't truly begin to heal until she finds him - the boy who has Trent's heart. Quinn feels just seeing this boy will allow her to find the closure she needs to begin healing her broken spirit.

A chance meeting puts the boy, Colton, directly into Quinn's life. The two strike up a tenuous friendship both seeming to need a friend. Colton is trying to move past the guilt that the new heart which kept his life going came at the cost of someone else dying. Quinn is trying to patch up her broken heart and start living again. These two will soon learn that the other is the balm they need to soothe their wounds, but will they be able to survive when the secrets they keep hidden rise to the surface?

There were so many elements that made this novel resonate with me. Jessi Kirby has a way of bringing beauty into life's darkest moments. It's impossible for me not to feel every emotion in the spectrum while reading her novels. She makes you care deeply about her characters and I lose myself in their story every single time. My heart broke over and over for the pain that Quinn and Colton faced on a daily basis, but it was mended as the two began to become closer. 

In addition to the friendship between Quinn and Colton, I also enjoyed the familial relationships. Quinn's family is supportive and intensely worried about her. It's been over a year since Trent died, but Quinn is existing more than she is truly living. Her parents, grandmother, and older sister all encourage her to find something that will get her out of the house. Her friendship with Trent and her new found love of the ocean allow her to begin to live again outside of her family. I loved the relationship between Quinn and her older sister, Ryan. It's always nice to see siblings supporting one another, but I also appreciated that Ryan doesn't let Quinn off the hook when she makes bad choices. These two force each other to see their mistakes and find solutions. In addition, I also liked the relationship between Colton and his older sister, Shelby. Their relationship is more complicated than Quinn and Ryan's due to Colton's health. It was nice to see Colton assert his independence over Shelby at times, but it was also endearing to see how fiercely loyal Shelby was to her brother.

I also love the strong sense of place in this one. Setting is something that can make or break a novel for me. I want to be able to immerse myself in the sights along with the characters. Kirby does a beautiful job of describing the coastal California areas that Quinn and Colton visit. I am longing to learn to ocean kayak and to camp on the beach.

Lastly, I enjoyed learning more about organ donations. Quotations begin each chapter and many of them come from nonfiction texts concerning the heart and organ transplants. I've never stopped to consider how this process works, but I am interested in learning more about reading Things We Know By Heart. I kept wondering as I read if it was possible for the donated organs to retain some sense of memory or if that was something straight out of fiction. The heart, in particular, seems to hold the essence of a person in many ways. I find comfort in thinking about a little part of someone living on after they have passed away.

Things We Know By Heart is one of those novels that will make you feel so intensely that you can't put the novel down for long. It's a novel that focuses on the light at the end of the tunnel. The story is bittersweet and beautifully written. It has certainly earned a spot on my 2015 Favorites Shelf.

One Last Gripe: I was frustrated with Colton when he didn't pay attention to his medication. I veered into Shelby territory in those moments.

Favorite Thing About This Book: I fell in love with these characters.

First Sentence: I don't know how I knew, when the sirens woke me just before dawn, that they were for him.

Favorite Character: I loved them all, but if I can only choose one, I'll go with Quinn.

Least Favorite Character: I didn't have one.

When Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.

After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.

Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn't want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they're connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.


  1. Beautiful review! Maybe a heart-wrenching subject, but one we all know too well. You never really get over losing someone you love, you just learn to live with them being gone.

  2. I just got this book on my Kindle, so now I'm super excited to read it!

  3. I feel like there was a movie about this. Had David Duchovny and Minnie was really good and made me have some of those same questions about organ donations.


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