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A Heartbeat Away

You think it's never going to happen to you. I know because that's how I was—untouchable. Bad things only happen to someone else. Or if something bad actually did happen, it was always something the doctor could fix with fiberglass or a pill.

That's the way it was with my family—at least until the year I turned thirteen.

When their young daughter, Kristin, is kidnapped, Gary and Angie Marshall struggle to make sense of the unthinkable. Who could do such a thing? And why Kristin? As more time passes in their desperate search for their daughter, their hopes slowly dwindle. They are left with "if onlys" and a glaring uncertainty that damages their marriage and their relationships with their other children, especially their oldest daughter, Meghan.

Meanwhile, Kristin is having new experiences of her own. Her first job in her new "life" is to heal the hearts of her family. But doing so turns out to be more of a challenge than she ever expected. How can she get them to let her go so they can all find happiness? Or can there ever be a healing after such a devastating trial?

Looming above them all is the question—who is responsible for Kristin's disappearance? Is it their beloved uncle? Their neighbor Dale Loveridge, who once dated Angie Marshall? Or could it be Jay, the young man with a colorful past? Or perhaps someone else entirely?

Time is running out. As she blames herself for Kristin's disappearance, Meghan turns down a road that can only lead to more unhappiness. Kristin must find a way to help her sister find healing—and perhaps love.

What Others Are Saying

I read a lot of books while I was in Salt Lake City, and one of those was A Heartbeat Away, by Rachel Ann Nunes. I wasn't sure I was going to like it, but I did. It's the story of a girl who is kidnapped and killed, how her family deals with it, and how she deals with her family from the Other Side.

In a way, it's similar to the mainstream book The Lovely Bones, which I also read. But The Lovely Bones left me with a deeply engraved expression of "Huh?" on my face and a similarly deep feeling of depression in my soul. A Heartbeat Away, however, left me feeling very content and uplifted.

I remember especially liking the way that Rachel Ann Nunes carefully kept the identity of the perpetrator hidden until the end of the book, and making the reader suspect first one character, then the next, until it was finally revealed. I also liked the idea that Kristin was experiencing "love among the stars" as it were, having met a male spirit who died as a child.

I was pleased that the male spirit, whom Kristin had known on earth, appeared to her as the child he had been, so that she recognized him, and then changed into his adult self. Same with her grandmother, appearing so that Kristin could recognize her, and then changing. It just seemed so logical and right!

Another little thing that made me stop and think, in a positive way of course, was the idea that Kristin was having trouble getting close to her older sister Meghan, because Meghan had started listening to certain kinds of music after Kristin's death. It made me remember the time not so long ago when I suddenly got just plain sick of rock music and couldn't stand anything but classical. A while later, I was called to be Relief Society President, and I often felt that the soothing influence of classical music had helped prepare my soul for the increased spirituality that I would need. Because of that experience, I could really relate to that part of the book.

I also liked the idea of Kristin working behind the scenes, so to speak, to help her family cope, to help find the perpetrator, and to help the spirits of the previous victims advance in the spirit kingdom as well.

All in all, this was an excellent book, and I'm glad I read it.
  —Melanie Goldmund of Kiel, Germany
Rachel's A Heartbeat Away is totally absorbing and inspiring. I had a Walden's book token from my daughter for Mothers' Day and picked that book—and couldn't bear to put it down. I know so many people who will benefit and grow from the read and am going to recommend it to all. Well done, Rachel—what talent!
  —Anne Bradshaw, author of Terracotta Summer
I read A Heartbeat Away. It is a really good book! This book is on my top ten list.
  —Kendra Sandberg
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Author's Comments

Recent events in Utah and in the United States have left many of us thinking about children who have been lost to very evil people. How many prayers have you offered in their behalf and in behalf of their families? How many of you parents have spent sleepless nights checking on your children to assure yourselves of their safety? How many of you grew more distrustful of strangers, or even your own neighbors? The heartache seems without end—especially for those kidnapping victims whose families do not understand the great Plan of Happiness and thus have no hope of being with their child for eternity.

For months thoughts of kidnapping victims have burdened my heart. Along with many of you, I longed for relief and for justice. I felt many things that I did not know how to understand. I wished there was some way I could help. I wanted to change things with my words—yet how?

When Lyle Mortimer first invited me to his office to talk about writing this book, I have to admit I was skeptical. I believed a book about kidnapping might not be successful in this market. Yet the more I considered his suggestion and bounced plot ideas around in my head, the more I knew that this story could be done well and what's more, that it should be done. I felt confident that with inspiration and deep thought, I could create something my readers would appreciate—perhaps even something they needed to read.

So I began.

The first several chapters had me in tears. As a writer, I must enter the heads of my characters to experience their inner feelings; in a way I become the characters for a short time—and often that is not an easy task. My heart and soul cried out for relief . . . and then a miracle occurred. While writing this story my aching heart was healed! I felt an urgency to share that healing, to reach out to my readers and to my community.

While researching this book, I have studied various kidnapping cases, but a resemblance to any specific case is unintentional. I think you will enjoy the portrayal and more particularly the hope it brings. I've written this novel with the same attention to relationships and love that marks my other novels because I believe it's love that makes everything possible.

As always, thank you for your support. I couldn't do it without you!

Heartbeat Away Discussion Guide

*Do you feel Gary and Angie Marshall were responsible parents?

*How did Kristin's kidnapping change her family dynamics? Do you feel these changes are realistic?

*How did you feel about the depiction of Kristin's rape and murder, particularly on pages 13 and 14?

*The author read many books about death experiences and used the similarities in those to create a Heaven. What did you like most about the descriptions of heaven? What did you like the least?

*What did you feel about Kristin's view of Meghan's music and its affect on the Marshall household?

*Discuss the scenes at the temple and how the spirits were able to visit. What impressed you the most about these scenes?

*The author portrays Kristin as very aware what is going on with her family even though she is dead. How does that make you feel? What gospel principles are shown in this awareness?

*Could Kristin visit her family at will or did she need permission?

*Did you guess who the kidnapper was before the end? Do you feel his character was true-to-life?

*Not everyone who loses someone will be able to see that person in the temple, but how do you feel seeing Kristin helped Meghan? Could such a thing really happen?

*In the author's note at the beginning of the book, Rachel Ann Nunes says this was one of the hardest books she's ever written. Why do you think that's true?

*If you lost someone you loved, did this book help your understanding of the afterlife? How might it help someone who doesn't have the gospel?

Sample Chapter

From the Diary of Meghan Marshall Burke Sometimes you don't know when you will be called upon to endure something you thought would  (more...)

Where to Buy

Softcover Tradeback $14.95 suggested retail price.
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General Info

Cedar Fort, Softcover Tradeback, Family Drama, 208 pages.
First printing in April 2003
ISBN 1-55517-646-1 Type other info here