Beating Heart Baby by Lio Min
Published: July 26th by Flatiron Books
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5)
Genre: Young Adult // Romance, LGBT, Contemporary
Quick Thoughts: A stunning, emotional and achingly beguiling novel with characters that stepped off the page and told their stories to me in vibrant colours.
About The Book:
Lio Min’s Beating Heart Baby is an “achingly romantic” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) love letter to internet friendships, anime, and indie rock
When artistic and sensitive Santi arrives at his new high school, everyone in the wildly talented marching band welcomes him with open arms. Everyone except for the prickly, proud musical prodigy Suwa, who doesn’t think Santi has what it takes to be in the band.
But Santi and Suwa share painful pasts, and when they open up to each other, a tentative friendship begins. And soon, that friendship turns into something more. . . .
Will their fresh start rip at the seams as Suwa seeks out a solo spotlight, and both boys come to terms with what it’ll take, and what they’ll have to let go, to realize their dreams?
When I was first approached about reading Beating Heart Baby, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t already on my radar. I quickly accepted and read this in April (quite a bit ago, now!) writing pages of notes about how I felt before eclipsing them together to somehow get my thoughts to line with non-cap’s lock words.
Main character Santi is starting his new High School with a few apprehensions, but is quickly pushing them aside when a warm welcome wraps him in a tight hold. Well, everyone except musically gifted Suwa, our other MC that we get to read a POV from, who is quite off with Santi. There’s a little mystery about the connection between the two of them, but for the most part, Santi is aware that Suwa just doesn’t think he has what it takes to be part of the immensely talented marching band. But the first impression of hostility does disintegrate into a friendship, slipping effortlessly into something a little more.
But when they finally realise some long, past link between them, it changes the foundation they were building, opening them up to see one another on a newfound level with ties to who they are and who they used to be. Not only do we get to see how they have grown, but just how complex it is to grow up—and become who you truly are—in the height of fast times, the shadows of others and fears of losing something you love, and someone, before it begins.
Overall, Beating Heart Baby had me by my heart for most of the novel. I felt unflinchingly close to Santi and Suwa as they navigated life and each other. Despite feeling a little disconnected from Santi through his own POV in the first half, gaining more insight to him through Suwa, I couldn’t feel more love for them if I tried. Not only did this novel hold sexuality and trans rep with the upmost care, but it honestly felt like the characters were real, sitting beside me as I read. This was a stunning, emotional and achingly beguiling novel with characters that stepped off the page and told their stories to me in vibrant colours. I can’t recommend it enough for your late summer nights—it was made for it. 4.5 stars!
Lio Min has listened to, played and performed, and written about music for most of their life. Their debut novel Beating Heart Baby is about boys, bands, and Los Angeles. They've profiled and interviewed acts including Japanese Breakfast, Rina Sawayama, MUNA, Caroline Polachek, Christine and the Queens, Raveena, Tei Shi, Speedy Ortiz, and Mitski. Headshot by Bao Ngo. (Twitter: @EmoOcean / Instagram: @Emo.Ocean)