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The Heart Does Not Grow Back: A Novel by…

The Heart Does Not Grow Back: A Novel

by Fred Venturini

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446409,817 (3.65)6
"Dale Sampson is used to being a nonperson at his small-town Midwestern high school, picking up the scraps of his charismatic lothario of a best friend, Mack. He comforts himself with the certainty that his stellar academic record and brains will bring him the adulation that evaded him in high school. But when an unthinkable catastrophe tears away the one girl he ever had a chance with, his life takes a bizarre turn as he discovers an inexplicable power: he can regenerate his organs and limbs. When a chance encounter brings him face to face with a girl from his past, he decides that he must use his gift to save her from a violent husband and dismal future. His quest takes him to the glitz and greed of Hollywood, and into the crosshairs of shadowy forces bent on using and abusing his gift. Can Dale use his power to redeem himself and those he loves, or will the one thing that finally makes him special be his demise? The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a darkly comic, starkly original take on the superhero tale, introducing an exceptional new literary voice in Fred Venturini"--… (more)



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When I heard the author preview the book at another author's book event I thought the book would be entertaining. I was wrong about it just being entertaining... This book is fantastic! It made me laugh, it made me cry, mostly it made me think about the relationships in my life. Worth every minute I spent reading it. ( )
  armysquirrel | Jan 1, 2018 |
All of me, why not take all of me?

The Heart Does Not Grow Back: A Novel by Fred Venturini (Picador, $16).

He’s not quite the sacrificial hero Samson, but Dale Sampson has a lot to offer: himself. He can’t quite go all the way—Dale’s no Christ-figure—but he can come darn close.

In Fred Venturini’s The Heart Does Not Grow Back, Dale finds out—after a nasty bullying incident in high school—that his body can regenerate itself. He could be quietly altruistic, but Dale’s a bit of a schlub, and he’s got this friend, Mack, who’s full of ideas.

Before you know it, he’s also got a reality-TV show, The Samaritan, in which he donates organs and body parts to needy people.

Fame, fortune and superhero status sound too good to be true, and they are, as Dale is forced to reckon with his own moral compass. Despite the supernatural overtones, this is more speculative literary fiction, drawing attention to the question of altruism and the power of our own negative feelings about ourselves to drive charity. Venturini overlays the question of how we are to act in the world as well as on our feelings with comedy, but the core of this novel is all heart.

Reviewed on Lit/Rant: www.litrant.tumblr.com ( )
  KelMunger | Jan 26, 2015 |
Review Posted from Tenacious Reader: http://www.tenaciousreader.com/2014/11/02/the-heart-does-not-grow-back-by-frank-...

I couldn’t put this book down. I’ll start with that. And when I went to set up my review for it, and I had to assign it a genre, I really didn’t know what to put it as. The closest thing I can compare it to genre-wise is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. That is science fiction, but the story is not really so much about the science fiction aspect of it, rather the science-fiction element is more of what sets up the story, puts the characters in the situations. I’m sure there are other examples as well, but this one sprang to mind. The Heart Does Not Grow Back is very similar in that respect. Human regeneration. Is that science fiction? I guess it is as it certainly isn’t factual science. And yes, there would not be a story without that element. But the story is more about the people, about relationships, hardships, healing and surviving. It’s about how even if you can regenerate your internal organs, there is more that needs to heal to really feel whole.

In 6th grade Dale Sampson is a quiet outsider. He spends his time alone, sitting by himself at recess. But a turn of events makes him unlikely best friends with Mack Tucker, the boy every boy wants to be and the boy every girl wants to date. They both have the ability to see each other for who they really are and not who they are defined to be by their reputations. Dale has found a true friend in Mack, but even as years go by, he still seems isolated from the rest of his peers.

There are a couple of incidents where there is some evidence of Dale’s ability to heal, but not until he is faced with real tragedy is the true extent of his ability really understood. There are so many ways a story could go with a character that can regenerate body parts. The author could turn him into some sort of famed stunt man who takes real bullets to get more realistic footage, they could make him a daring superhero who runs into fires to save kittens and babies and old people. Most of the things I can think of would take it to a more action-movie style. This is not that. I don’t want to say too much about the path it does take, but I loved it. It does examine a bit how it ‘should’ be used, is there some sort of responsibility on his part to do more because of his ‘gift’?

This book is definitely dark. I really liked Dale, he has a wonderful sense of dark and sarcastic humor, but have to admit he is not a happy protagonist, he is awkward and uncomfortable. He is also borderline obsessive about relationships that never even existed. But that’s the thing. This book really highlights that healing is about so much more than just tissue repair. Dale is damaged and broken despite being a ‘superhero’. Highly recommend it for those who enjoy dark, character driven stories. ( )
  tenaciousreader | Dec 30, 2014 |
BIG disappointment. The novel squanders a fascinating premise in the same way that the lead character squanders a remarkable gift. He's an adolescent when the book begins, and though he ages into his 20s, both his behavior and the writing remain adolescent. And there isn't a believable (or likeable) person in the entire book. It was a waste of my time, but at least it was a fast read. ( )
  gf1701 | Dec 18, 2014 |
The Heart Does Not Grow Back was an unexpected surprise. I saw some readers designate it as Science Fiction, others who describe it as Horror, and even a few who tagged it as a superhero novel. As it often is in these cases, every single one of these categorizations are accurate, but none of them tell the whole story. It’s definitely a tough book to describe, but I’m also really glad I went into it with very little information, because I loved how everything unfolded before me and threw me for a loop at every turn.

The introduction was probably the most powerful but also most brutal part of the book. When I was reading the first few chapters, my mind went to Stephen King – not really in terms of the storytelling or writing style, but in the whole vibe of a boyhood camaraderie that binds together two young friends, and how even in small sleepy towns you will find evil people with darkness in their hearts. Once upon a time, a geek and a jock met each other on the playground and became the best of friends. But months before their high school graduation, a violent and unthinkable tragedy destroys Mack Tucker’s chances of ever becoming a professional baseball player, and Dale Sampson loses the love of his life but also discovers he possesses the ability to regenerate.

Dale’s story takes a turn for the grim and bleak, full of regrets and what-could-have-beens. Despite winning the evolutionary lottery with his amazing regeneration powers, he falls into a downward spiral of depression and apathy, until one day a girl from his past walks back into his life and gives it some meaning again.

So, what can a guy with the miraculous ability to heal and regenerate himself do in order to turn his life around, become the hero and save the girl? Dale gets together with his old friend Mack and the two come up with a plan that ends up being as insane as it is darkly hilarious. Two words: Reality TV. I wouldn’t have seen that coming in a million years.

As outlandish as the premise sounds, Fred Venturini makes it all work wonderfully, making this an intensely engaging read. I was always left wondering where the story will go next, even though the characters themselves remain quite static and predictable when it comes to personality. Mack is a crude womanizing meathead, and Dale is a sad one-man pity party who hits rock bottom and stays there for much of the book. None of the characters are particularly likeable and there was no one in this book whose neck I didn’t want to wring at least once, though there is no doubt that all of this is by design. The author clearly meant for his narrator to be deeply flawed and broken with a defeatist and almost transgressive attitude towards life and love – a result from the traumatic events of his past. Dale is standoffish and has deep-seated issues when it comes to women, but at least we are in the position to understand why.

The ending is what really pulls it all together, resolving the conflicts and all the relationships while offering a glimmer of hope and a reason to be optimistic. Still, I wouldn’t go as far as to call this a happy book. I enjoy stories where characters are put in difficult situations; part of the fun is watching them overcome those obstacles to emerge victorious, after all. But Venturini is an author who seriously puts his characters through the wringer. I mean that as a compliment more than anything, given the way Dale to pushed to the very edge thus making his eventual turnaround all the more satisfying and meaningful. Nevertheless, I still felt the need for a cheerier book after this.

Was it worth the read, though? Heck, was it ever. I was surprised when I looked up the author and saw that The Heart Does Not Grow Back was his first novel (though it was first published a few years ago under a different title, The Samaritan) because of how strong and polished the writing was. I’ll be keeping an eye out for any other books by him in the future. ( )
  stefferoo | Nov 16, 2014 |
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