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Instructions for a Second-hand Heart

Chapter 1 - Jonny

My name is Jonny Webb and I am a robot.
Last summer, my heart stopped for three and a half minutes.
When they got it going again, the muscle was damaged and didn’t work properly. So now I have this machine plugged into me, keeping me alive. It’s called a Berlin Heart and you can actually see my blood being pumped along its tubes into these two little round things and then back into my body, which is gross but fascinating. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I pretend I’m Iron Man and the Berlin Heart is my arc reactor. I know; tragic, right? I’m almost fifteen, the oldest patient in the hospital to have one – all the others are little kids or even babies. On a good day, I might sketch them as hard-core X-Men characters. On bad days, they remind me that I’m dying.
Being under a death sentence sucks. If you were a smart-arse, you might point out that everyone is dying but trust me, I’ll be doing it sooner than most. I’ve spent more than half my life in hospital and every day, I get closer to shooting the breeze with Death.
What I really need is a new heart. But it’s not like you can just pick one up down the high street or online. No, you have to wait for someone who matches you to die. Then you have to hope they’re on the Organ Donor Register. If they’re not, it’s up to their family to decide whether to donate any organs that are still up to the job. Not everyone says yes, so there’s a massive waiting list. And that’s why I think I’ll be dead soon, although I don’t ever say that around my family. Deep down, we all know it’s pretty much a given – I’ve got this really rare blood type, which reduces the chances of finding a match even more. But we pretend that’s not how it is.
My best mate at the hospital is called Emily – aka my only mate these days, because there’s only so long you can expect your healthy friends to stick around before you slip gradually out of their minds. Em’s got acute myeloid leukaemia and they’re not sure she’s going to make it either. The hospital psychologists we have to see each week told us to make a list of things to do when we get well – the opposite of a bucket list – because they reckon it helps to stay positive. Em and I did ours together. It has stupid stuff on it, like Meet Sam Claflin (that’s hers, not mine – she’s got posters of him everywhere) and Meet comic legend Chris Claremont at London Super Comic Con, ’cos if you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big. But there’s some not-so-crazy stuff on there too, things most teenagers take for granted, like going to the cinema or moshing at a gig. I’d like to do the whole cinema experience with Em someday – loading up on snacks, getting annoyed at the people who talk, appreciating the action on a big screen. Not like on a date, obviously; I’ve never fancied Em. She’s just someone I can talk to when I feel down, someone who gets what living under a death sentence is like – no one understands you like another hospital kid. It’d be nice to share some good times with Em too.
 So here I am, killing time and waiting for exactly the right person to die in exactly the right way. Sometimes, I wish the surgeons could remove my real heart and leave me with this artificial one for ever. Then I wouldn’t find myself wishing for a tragedy to happen to someone I’ve never met. I’d be genuinely heartless then, instead of only feeling like I am.
The truth is, I’m not Iron Man. I’m just a boy with no future.

Chapter 2 – Niamh

“Race you to the rocks!”
Leo stands poised on the shingle beach, his body angled towards a stack of boulders cowering at the base of the limestone cliffs, daring me to run. I scowl and decide to ignore him. Leo might be my twin but we’re totally different, inside and out. He’s bright and boisterous, like a half-grown Labrador, all big brown eyes and golden hair and enthusiasm – fifteen going on five. And of course, he’s popular; everyone loves him, especially the moronic girls at school. People do a double take when they find out we’re twins, as though they can’t believe we’re even related. It’s like he nicked all the good stuff while we were in the womb and I got what was left.
He flashes a teasing grin my way. “What’s the matter, little sister? Scared I’ll beat you again?”
Little sister. He says that a lot, like those three minutes make him Gandalf or something. Mum lifts her sunglasses, pushing her coppery hair back from her face, and glances back and forth between us. She’s smiling, but there’s anxiety behind her eyes, as though she senses the rage bubbling under my skin. Sometimes, I wonder if she reads my mind. I hope for her sake she doesn’t. It’s a dark place these days.
Her forehead crinkles into a frown and I feel bad. This holiday is her attempt at fixing things – a reminder of the sun-drenched beach adventures of our childhood, when the two of us spent the days playing pirates and exploring rock pools, and the nights squashed side by side in our tiny caravan bunks – inseparable. Then we got older and the cracks began to appear. Leo became the family golden boy – ace footballer, A* student and everybody’s mate. No matter how hard I tried, I was never as good. Once I’d fallen into his shadow I couldn’t find my way out and, eventually, I stopped trying.
My gaze settles on the sea, sparkling in the mid-afternoon heat haze, and the man walking his dog along the frothing surf. I should make the effort and pretend I’m not actually a seething mass of resentment.
My stomach churns as I consider the options. Play nicely or pick a fight? Mum’s tension is obvious now and I feel sick, as though everyone’s happiness hinges on what I do next. Fight or flight, they call it in science, the body’s reaction to stress and Leo definitely stresses me out. I don’t really hate him but like a certain social networking site says, it’s complicated. I can’t say I like him, either.
“Don’t be a knob all your life, Leo,” I say, turning away.
“Niamh!” Mum exclaims, sounding disappointed. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Leo’s smile falter. And in that split second, when his shoulders droop in defeat, that’s when I run, speeding past him in a spray of pebbles. He lets out a yell of surprise and then I hear him crunching after me.
He’s close. I can hear his breath ragged in my ear, a gurgle of laughter underneath it. But for all his boasting, we’re a pretty even match; he’s big but I’m speedy, and the precious few seconds’ head start I have is enough to keep me in the lead. The breeze sends my hair streaming out behind me and tickles my face, at the same time as my muscles stretch and sing. I realize with a jolt that I’m actually enjoying myself. I don’t do sport. In fact, I don’t really do anything so I’m amazed my body knows how to react. But it feels good. Heaving in a deep breath, I urge my legs to move faster and focus on my goal. I have to win. I have to.
The rocks are close now – I can see they’re wet and half-covered in seaweed. Something brushes the back of my faded Smiths T-shirt – Leo’s fingers. And that’s about right too – everyone thinks he’s Mr Perfect but he’s not above a bit of cheating to get what he wants. Not this time, though. Another burst of determination shoots through me and I power forwards. With a grunt of effort, I reach out and slap a waist-high boulder with my hand.
He crashes into the back of me, sending me sprawling over the rock and knocking what little breath I have left from my lungs. Briny seawater slops over my feet and the hard jagged rock jabs under my ribcage. I let out a surprised oof of pain.
His weight lifts, allowing me to push myself up and glare at him.
“Soz,” he pants, stepping back with an unrepentant grin. “Couldn’t stop.”
“Yeah, you could,” I say, shaking the water off my Converse. “Loser.”
He tips his head, acknowledging the truth. “Okay, you won. But I bet you can’t beat me to the top!”
God, he really is a five-year-old. He means the cluster of rocks, which is bigger than it seemed from the other side of the beach, jutting over our heads in a mini-mountain beneath the clifftop. They’re jumbled together every which way, the razor-sharp edges dressed with slick seaweed and algae. I hesitate.
“Of course, if you’re too scared…”
He leaves the words hanging in the heat, knowing as well as I do that he doesn’t need to finish the sentence. Inextricably tangled up in my resentment and irritation is a tiny spark of competitiveness I can’t quite extinguish, the need to prove something. Sometimes it’s a battle in my head, like beating him to the last Pop-Tart. Today, it’s this and I can see from his face that he thinks he’s already won.
“Let’s make it interesting,” I say, my mind searching for a way to get the upper hand. “If I win, I get your guitar.”
I don’t actually want it, I just want to threaten something he loves. He fancies himself as a musician, reckons he’ll make it one day, and no one is allowed to touch his precious Fender. I honestly think he loves it more than he loves his girlfriend. The threat has the desired effect, anyway – his eyes narrow. “Get lost, Niamh. Like you’d know what to do with it.”
A gust of wind whips my hair across my face and I taste sand as I lick my lips. “Now who’s scared?”
We stare at each other and something flashes between us; pride, understanding? It’s gone before I can work out what it is. But I know Leo won’t back down.
“All right. And if I win, you have to get down on your knees and admit that I am awesome.”
The realization that I literally have nothing he wants rubs salt in an already open wound. Twin spots of humiliation burn my cheeks. “It’s never going to happen but okay.”
He fires a mocking smile my way. “Ready to lose?”
My legs tense once more and, this time, there’s an added tingle. I nod.
“On your marks, get set, go!”
He’s off, white Vans scrambling over the slippery surface as he scales the boulders immediately in front of us. My gaze travels sideways and spots an easier, flatter route. I jog a few metres to the right and start to climb.
At first, I think I’ve made a mistake. Leo is much higher than me and I feel like I’m going sideways instead of up. Then he stops, surveying the rocks above him. Lip curling, I concentrate on my own path. Behind us, there’s a faint shout. I glance back to see Mum and Dad heading our way. Mum has her arm in the air, waving, and I can imagine her worried expression. All the more reason to hurry, I decide; she’s bound to make us come down when she gets nearer. Leo looks my way, grinning, and I guess he’s thinking the same thing. We both climb faster.
We’re almost level when I notice him pause again. My strategy is paying off; the top boulder is in sight and the rocks ahead of me look like an easy climb. Leo stands still, his feet precariously balanced either side of an evil-looking ridge, and I can see why he’s stopped. There’s a gaping hole between where he stands and the next rock. If he wants to beat me, he’ll have to jump.
His gaze flickers downwards, as though he’s considering backtracking. A surge of triumph rushes through me; if he does that, there’s no way he can win.
“Sucks to be you, Leo,” I call across to him, scaling the stone with the kind of spidery skill that would put Peter Parker to shame. “How much do you think your guitar will fetch on eBay?”
He scowls and scans the rocks with more urgency. Laughing, I manoeuvre past the last obstacle in my way and clamber onto the top of the rocks. Below, I hear a grunt. I look down, just as Leo clears the gap and grips onto the rock above. But there’s something wrong. I see panic on his face. His fingers scrabble in the half-dried seaweed and his feet scratch against the stone, struggling to hold his weight. He hangs there, almost floating. Without a thought, I throw myself down flat and thrust out a hand to grab him. My fingers grip his and in a whoosh of relief, I’ve got him. But a second later he slips through my grasp and I’m holding thin air. He starts to drop. My terrified gaze locks onto his as he falls, almost in slow motion. Then there’s the sickening crunch of bone on rock and his eyelids snap shut.
He lies unmoving. I watch red blossom against the grey-black boulder where his head rests. And somewhere, somebody starts to scream.

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Jonny has a faulty heart and his time is running out. Niamh has just lost her twin brother in a tragic accident. As their fates collide, soon Jonny is on the mend - but desperate to know more about his donor. When he tracks down Niamh, he only intends to find out about her brother, the first owner of his heart. He doesn't plan on falling in love...

A stunning, tear-jerking novel about grief, guilt, and the unpredictability of love.

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Book information

Key Stage
Lexile Measure
Accelerated Reader level
10 UY
ISBN: 9781474906500
Extent: 408 pages
Dimensions: 198 x 130mm

Author information

Tamsyn Murray

Multi-talented Tamsyn Murray writes for all ages, including her gorgeous Tanglewood Animal Park series for readers aged 7+, her hilarious Completely Cassidy series for 9+, and the stunning YA standalone, Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart, which was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Association YA Romantic Novel of the Year, and won the Leeds Book Award in the 11-14 category. Tamsyn's other special talents include performing onstage, and being able to lick her own elbow.

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Shortlisted - Southern Schools Book Awards 2017

Shortlisted - 2017 Romantic Novel of the Year Awards

Winner - Leeds Book Awards 2017 (11-14 category)

Press reviews

“A perfect story: funny, sad, beautiful, touching, wistful, moving and utterly unputdownable. I could read it again and again.”
“At the heart of this novel is the power of love to heal. A first-rate coming-of-age story, which is guaranteed to make readers both laugh and cry.”
“I was gripped by this book. Smart, sad, thought-provoking, and full of heart.”
“Smart, sad, thought-provoking, and full of heart.”
“Explores universal themes in a very unique manner showing us how friendship can help heal a broken heart.”
“I lost myself in this story completely - a breathtaking tale of love, loss, and family. Just perfect.”
“A beautifully crafted story of hope, courage and first love.”

Resources for this book

  • Reading group questions
    Download a pdf of reading group questions to discuss about Instructions for a Second Hand Heart.