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Reviewed by Nell Mace-David
Opening sentence
‘Sixteen-year-olds are not supposed to be running long distance because we aren’t good at it. We don’t have the stamina, the physical bone and muscle mass to run them fast enough. I compete in a sport that I can never, ever, do well in.’
Emily runs half-marathons. She knows, without a doubt, that she will never win a race. And yet, she still runs. She has no idea why, but she does it anyway. That all changes the day she runs past an old man trying to throw a rope over a tree branch. She stops to help him because who wouldn’t help an elderly person. Never mind that it slows down the best run she’s had in a while. But this guy doesn’t want help, so she keeps running. Big mistake.

What she sees on the way back will change her forever and make her question everything she knows. Before, she ran for the sake of it. Now, she knows exactly what she’s running from. To make matters worse, Mr. Harris, the old man from down the street, has just had a stroke. Emily’s parents, in an effort to help, enlist her to take care of him while Mrs. Harris gets the groceries. But, like the guy with the rope, Mr. Harris doesn’t want help either.

Amidst all of this, Emily is still trying to get ready for her next half marathon. Can she get through to Mr. Harris, and maybe, just maybe, win her race?

Ella West has written a heartfelt story about life, death, and running: running away from things, and running towards them.

When I first saw that a book by Ella West was up for grabs, I was quite excited. Not because I have read any of her other books, though now I feel like I should, but because we both live in the same part of the country. The whole point of this reviewing platform is to review books from NZ authors, as they don’t really get the attention they deserve. It makes it all the more special when you live close enough to the author that you could have passed them on the street and not realized it. It connects you to the author, and to the book, and changes the reading experience entirely.

The same thing happens when the setting is familiar. This book is set in Clyde, and I have been to Clyde many times, so I could recognize the places somewhat. This is both slightly disconcerting, and interesting, because you have a moment when you think ‘Oh, I know that place!’ This is something that sets NZ fiction apart, because we live in a country small enough that you can recognize things. It really is a small world.
Anyway, on to the book. This is definitely a story I can relate to, about not really knowing why you do things. Like Emily, I had a revelation about this, and it motivated me in a way I can’t even explain. And I don’t think it’s just me, I think this is something any teenager could relate to.

The Sound of My Heart also confronts some important topics, such as suicide and elderly care. So, you know, content warning, but I agree with West that things like that shouldn’t be hidden in the shadows. Unfortunately, the themes weren’t really carried through the entire story. It was like there were two different plot lines, and one of them just disappeared. This was kind of sad, because if this hadn’t happened, then this would have been a really powerful book.

I would recommend this book to literally anyone 14+, because I believe that everyone would benefit from reading about the topics in this book. That being said, if you find these things particularly disturbing, then maybe this book isn’t for you. You also don’t have to like running to like this book. I will admit that I was expecting a lot of jargon, but it really wasn’t like that, and the running also provides a compelling metaphor for everything else going on. So, if you’re looking for an inspiring, powerful and short book, then you should read this. Also, Ella West, please release a paper copy because it will go straight on my shelf. Happy reading!

- Nell is 15, home-schooled, and lives in Dunedin.
Publisher: Rutherford Road Press
Format: Kindle
Publication: 2023
Ages: 12-18
Themes: Fiction, Sport, Young Adult, Self-Esteem