SHARK HEART by Emily Habeck

SHARK HEART, a stunning debut unlike anything I’ve ever read, might be my favorite novel of 2023. The unique structure, the beautiful writing, and the powerful emotions make this love story unforgettable.

Imagine a world in which humans can be inflicted with an illness that means they metamorphosize into birds, animals, or reptiles. There is no cure, and treatment exists only to ease the transition.

Lewis and Wren are soulmates, but in their first year of marriage, Lewis receives the devastating diagnosis that he is beginning the rarest of those transformations: from human to great white shark.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical about the premise, but from the first chapter, which is written as a vignette from a play, I was drawn into their world and couldn’t leave.

According to Wren, life isn’t a linear ladder but, “A spiraling trail up a mountain.” Each circling lap represents a learning cycle, and that’s how the story is revealed, although the path also travels down. Chapters weave back and forth in time, sometimes only in one-paragraph scenes, to reveal how Lewis and Wren met and fell in love.

We know Lewis comes from a close family and is an actor, a teacher, a playwright, and someone who sketches treehouse designs on every scrap of paper he can find. Wren is more of a mystery, but her life story is slowly revealed until we understand the secret at her core.

Both are wonderful characters, and their dedication to each other even as their situation becomes unbearable is heartbreaking and heartwarming.  When Lewis begins to display the traits of a predator and everyone pulls away, Wren adapts. She becomes increasingly isolated in her roll as carer, never flinching in her devotion.

This powerful and poetic novel will leave you with much to process about grief, acceptance, and love that transcends loss. These might be my favorite lines:

“So, maybe love wasn’t an unwieldy accessory in times of peril. Maybe it was the key to survival.”

And yes, we get to see how Wren and Lewis survive the unimaginable and choose to live.

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