I didn’t think Faith Sullivan could write another book that would affect me emotionally as much as Unexpected, her novel dealing with the aftermath of Sepember 11th—but I think Sullivan’s first novel, Heartbeat, impacted me even more! What impressed me most about Heartbeat was the way it managed to create two achingly realistic lead characters, while at the same time telling an almost fairytale-like story that emphasizes the workings of fate. These two seemingly opposite threads come together perfectly at the end of the book. If you’ve read any other reviews, you know the book has a rather shocking (okay, devastating) twist ending, so I’m not going to say any more about it and risk spoiling it for you. Instead, I’m going to focus on the characterization and why I liked it so much.What I really appreciate in Sullivan’s writing, and particularly in Heartbeat, is the way she creates such imperfect, real characters dealing with real problems. Hearbeat’s male lead, Adam, is definitely a handsome guy, but he’s very tall and lanky, almost skinny, instead of being your typical muscled heartthrob. He’s not a billionaire who can rescue the heroine from her average life, either—instead he’s just an average guy himself, struggling with school, work and paying the bills. What I liked best was that in this book, Adam is the one who’s feeling hurt and betrayed after a past relationship, during which he naively gave his whole heart to a girl who was basically using him. Usually it’s the too-trusting, too-romantic girl who falls for the player guy, so I appreciated seeing the roles reversed for once. I’ve known guys in real life who were emotionally vulnerable and romantic in the way Adam was, so it was nice to see this depicted accurately in a novel!As for Katie, what I appreciated most was the way Sullivan developed the trauma in her recent past. So many new adult books involve very extreme, dramatic, tragic backstories, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I thought Katie’s situation captured a different type of pain and confusion that isn’t often explored realistically, or at all. Katie is struggling after a recent sexual experience in which she felt used and rejected, and the situation is made more complex because it was her first intimate experience, and she’s not sure whether it was entirely consensual. Katie wonders whether or not she’s still technically a virgin, and she can’t decide whether she’d be more relieved if she is or she isn’t. What Katie went through isn’t technically rape or assault, so she can’t progress to the point where she realizes she’s the victim, not the guilty party, and can begin to move on. Instead, Katie is caught in this awful limbo where she experienced something our culture tells us is normal and pleasurable, but which made her feel uncomfortable and used. Since she can’t decide whether a wrong was done to her, she can’t truly acknowledge her pain over the incident, so she can’t move on from it. This is a complex situation that we rarely see in literature; it’s often easier to write a more dramatic, black-and-white backstory for your character. Because of her confusion and ambivalence, Katie felt so much more real—I identified with her to an almost painful degree, and my heart broke for her.This turned into a rather long-winded discussion, and Katie’s trauma certainly isn’t the only aspect of her character—she’s also dealing with an incredibly overbearing father and a beloved grandmother whose health is failing. She’s a girl who wants to be strong and independent, but both her family situation and her fragile physical health work against her. Like Adam, Katie is someone who loves with her whole heart, and it’s riveting to watch these two as fate seems to bring them together, but then drive them apart again. As for that ending…well, you’ll just have to read it for yourself. I will give you one word of advice: have the sequel ready before you start!