Review: 'Beating Heart Baby' an Exquisitely Written Exploration of Young Love

by Christopher Verleger

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday August 11, 2022

Review: 'Beating Heart Baby' an Exquisitely Written Exploration of Young Love

We've all heard the saying, 'They're made for each other.' Whoever coined that phrase may very well have had a pair in mind like Santi and Suwa, the protagonists in Lio Min's powerful, touching, picturesque Young Adult novel, "Beating Heart Baby."

Santi meets Suwa when he moves to Los Angeles with his guardian, Aya, for his junior year of high school. They are joined involuntarily by Cap, the school's marching band director, who serves as a father figure of sorts for the two aspiring artists.

Despite what they have in common (both are Asian-American and were raised by single parents), the brooding, emotionally guarded Suwa wants nothing to do with the whimsical, insecure Santi. Little do they know they were once close friends as youngsters via the internet, until they had a falling out when Santi inadvertently revealed something Suwa shared with him in confidence.

Sparks fly when they finally reconnect, as if they were discovering each other for the first time, and their courtship is beautifully influenced by music and anime, with the bustling city of Los Angeles as a backdrop. Every scene between them drips with tension and vivid imagery as they learn more about each other's inspirations and desires. Their fairy tale romance is short-lived, however, when their pasts come back to haunt them.

The first half of the novel is narrated by Santi, as he adjusts to his new life in Los Angeles, and the latter part picks up post-graduation, told from Suwa's point of view, after his musical prowess has caught the attention of an industry giant.

As a transgender male, Suwa struggles with issues of identity and acceptance (at home and on stage), whereas Santi has lived like a transient since his mother's death and finds it difficult to connect with anyone long term. Min's sensitive, earnest portrayal of these men on the verge of adulthood makes for an endearing love story, as well as two equally profound, compelling coming-of-age tales.

Although the novel centers around Santi and Suwa, their emotional journey would not be complete without their highly entertaining, diverse circle of friends (or chosen family), who provide colorful commentary, fierce loyalty, and brutal honesty. Ultimately, the two young lovers rely most upon their actual family members — Aya, Santi's legal guardian, and Sayo, Suwa's sister — two strong, impressive women with larger-than-life personalities that demand everyone's undivided attention.

"Beating Heart Baby" is a poignant, exquisitely-written work with unforgettable characters, an infectious romance, and a captivating story about identity, acceptance and self-esteem.

"Beating Heart Baby" is available now from Flatiron Books.

Chris is a voracious reader and unapologetic theater geek from Narragansett, Rhode Island.