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Conditions of a Heart

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About The Book

Two starred reviews!

“Achingly touching, heartfelt, and true, Brynn’s story of reinvention and self-discovery resonates on every page. A book to savor and hold dear.” —Kathleen Glasgow, New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces and The Agathas

For fans of Talia Hibbert and Lynn Painter comes an “emotionally rich” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) and unflinchingly honest story about a teen who must come to terms with her disability and what it means for her identity, her love life, and her future.

Brynn Kwan is desperate for her high school persona to be real. That Brynn is head of the yearbook committee, the favorite for prom queen, and definitely not crumbling from a secret disability that’s rapidly wearing her down. If no one knows the truth about her condition, Brynn doesn’t have to worry about the pitying looks or accusations of being a faker that already destroyed her childhood friendships. She’s even willing to let go of her four-year relationship with her first love, Oliver, rather than reveal that a necessary surgery was the reason she ignored his existence for the entire summer.

But after Brynn tries to break up a fight at a pep rally and winds up barred from all her clubs and senior prom, she has nothing left to prop up her illusion of being just like everyone else. During a week-long suspension from school, she realizes that she doesn’t quite recognize the face in the mirror—and it’s not because of her black eye from the fight. With a healthy sister who simply doesn’t understand and a confused ex-boyfriend who won’t just take a hint and go away like a normal human being, Brynn begins to wonder if it’s possible to reinvent her world by being the person she thought no one wanted: herself.

Excerpt

Chapter One

One
I’m just like other girls, and I’ll throat-punch anyone who says I’m not.

Every time I turn around, someone is making fun of Basic White Girls. Well, I’m a Basic Yellow Girl, then. I live for yoga pants and bath bombs and pumpkin spice lattes. I have a designated seat in detention and last year’s junior prom crown on the doorknob of my closet. Go ahead. Tell me I’m so predictable. Uninspired. Ordinary.

Tell me I’m like everyone else. Please.

I keep my eyes trained on the football field as my hand massages away a dull pulsing in my knee that worsens with every shiver. Between the storm looming on the horizon and the slow creep of time, I know that the pain will only get worse. I can feel the first whisper of winter in my bones, a deep ache lurking beneath flawless makeup and the kind of well-rehearsed smile that hurts if held too long.

My armor.

“Why are we still here again?” Francesca asks off to my right, clutching the sides of her jacket around herself, a broken zipper dangling in between. “It’s freezing. We could leave and they’d never know.”

The cheerleaders finish up their act and scatter, opening the field for the marching band to parade through in an ornate formation. “My sister’s skit is up next. You don’t have to stay.”

Her face falls, and I search for a quick way to shore up our friendship, if that’s what you want to call spending inordinate amounts of time together without so much as making a dent on each other. We’re like two refrigerator magnets who would repel each other if only we ever got close enough in the first place. A prolonged acquaintance.

“Thanks for coming, though.” I jerk my chin toward the pep rally, where the rest of our prolonged acquaintances are holding instruments or hovering on the sidelines in various sports attire. “It’s nice to have company.”

She perks up again and shifts closer to me, just an inch.

I lift my phone and start filming as Eliza and the varsity crew team spread out onto the field. Even at a distance, I can tell that she’s nervous from the way she’s gripping her fake oar as they pretend to row their plywood boat past the fifty-yard line.

I don’t know why she worries so much. With the universe’s most tragic quarterback and swimmers who apparently can’t swim, we all know the crew team is our school’s only chance of winning anything more athletic than hopscotch. “Let’s hear it for the Pineland Prep Women’s Crew!” the announcer shouts. “First up, the rowers in the women’s varsity four: Romano, Lopez, Edelstein, Kwan! Led by Coxswain Jones!”

I scream extra loud for Eliza, who towers over Amy Jones as she shouts into her fake bullhorn. Just as they finish introducing the men’s varsity, a dubstep remix of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” blasts from the stadium speakers, and the junior varsity teams rush out onto the field in full-sized goldfish onesies with blue fins on the backs of their hoods. The last person out is dressed in the Sammy the Shark mascot costume, the torso naked where it usually sports a football jersey in the fall and a lacrosse outfit in the spring.

“No way!” Francesca giggles, clapping a hand over her mouth as she watches Brandon get a bit too frisky during the team dance. “I’m telling Kayla that Brandon is cheating on her with Sammy.”

I look around for Kayla’s notable height even among the boys, but I don’t see her. “I think she is Sammy.”

I never thought I’d be recording a video of a goldfish gyrating on our school mascot while my sister spanked them with an oar to show to my parents. Still, the crowd loves it, and it’s clear from Eliza’s relieved expression that she wasn’t sure people would laugh.

I stop recording as they reach the sidelines and wriggle out of the straps that held up the plywood boat.

“I wonder if I could snag that for comedy club,” Francesca muses.

“Why do you need a boat for that?”

She shrugs. “I don’t, but it never hurts to have more props for improv. I feel like we always have to build every single thing from scratch.”

“I’ll ask my sister and text you. And if she says no, I’ll just ask Kayla because she definitely won’t care.”

The cringeworthy Pineland Prep anthem cycles back on as our outgoing homecoming court takes the field again to close out the pep rally by giving wreaths to all the team captains. For some reason Pineland has a tradition of only electing jocks as our homecoming royalty, a fact that doesn’t bother me as long as they don’t encroach on prom.

“I cannot believe we elected Pat Zeller and Lisa Baker-Grant as our prince and princess,” Francesca mutters as we watch Pat try to stuff an extra flower into the homecoming queen’s cleavage. “I have lost faith in humanity.”

“Don’t even get me started.”

“Are we allowed to go now?” Francesca asks, searching for a signal from one of the chaperones. “I don’t think there are any teams left.”

“I have to pee, so I’m leaving.” I descend the bleachers with care, waving to TJ, the co-chair of the student council, to signal that I can talk since he’s been relentlessly blowing up my phone for the past fifteen minutes.

Francesca follows, head swiveling to see if we’ll get caught. We’re technically leaving a bit early, but none of the teachers seem to be policing the formal dismissal time. With only a half day of classes and the rest spent on the athletic fields, they’re probably tired of keeping us corralled.

I pause at the corner of the bleachers to wait for TJ. Ethan, the senior class vice president, isn’t far behind. “Pretzel sales are down,” TJ laments in his most dejected co-chair voice, cupping both of his hands into a megaphone and leaning so close to my ear that the bill of his hat pecks against the side of my head. “I don’t know if we’re going to have enough for the Community Costume Closet and the Boo-Boo Blood Drive.”

I shake my head at TJ’s obsession with alliterative names and run a few quick numbers on my phone, mentally pulling up the spreadsheet with our projections for costumes, blood-drive snacks, and decorations. “We might be able to scrap some of the decorations or send out a notice that we’re accepting costume donations for charity.”

“We could donate some cash from the senior-class fund,” Ethan proposes, shamelessly eavesdropping over TJ’s shoulder as he herds us away from the noise of other students chatting while they wait to be released.

I glower at Ethan, old arguments fresh to my tongue. “You can’t keep giving away all our prom money just because you’re friends with everyone.” I let the declaration sink in for a moment as we round the corner and leave the field behind us. “I know you snuck money to the freshmen.”

“But they’re so tiny and sad and bad at fundraising,” TJ points out, pressing a freckled hand to his heart. “We have to save them from their terrible bake sales.”

“You’re both such suckers.”

“Ice queen,” Ethan stages-whispers to TJ.

I shove his arm and almost push myself over in the process. Damn swimmer biceps. “At least I’m not a bleeding heart.”

“Party pooper.”

“Tool bag.”

“Scrooge.”

TJ lets his hand fall and shakes off a pretend burn, hissing through his teeth. “You’re making me glad I’m a junior. This senior class is too intense.” He leans his neck back to catch a glimpse of Francesca. “Except you, Franny. You’re the bestest art-class buddy ever.”

“Anytime?” she offers, laughing. Her laugh trails off as we circle around the bleachers and into the parking lot, where the crew team is facing off with a group of red-faced lacrosse players. Of course the instigator is Pat, fresh off the field with last year’s sash for homecoming prince still wrapped around him.

My heart jolts when I spot Oliver De Luca a few steps away, wearing a matching expression of curiosity and distaste as he watches the argument become more animated. Or maybe that repulsed look is for me. We lock eyes for a moment, and I tilt my hand in a half wave that he doesn’t reciprocate.

Francesca tugs on my sleeve. “Did you just wave at Oliver? Are you getting back together? We can go on double dates now!” She practically vibrates with excitement, her loose curls springing in every direction from under her Pineland Prep beanie.

“Hardly.” Though whenever I see him in person, my conviction to not beg for him back wavers somewhat. I run my eyes over his tanned skin, his hair long and mussed by the breeze. He’s even wearing the school polo I shrank by accident in the wash, the one that shows every muscle of his torso. I’m staring. I’m staring. Stop it, you useless eyeballs. Look somewhere else. “I’m just being nice.”

“But. But. I just don’t get how you can go through”—Francesca lowers her voice and looks over both shoulders for imaginary eavesdroppers—“freshman year and then break up now.”

“We don’t talk about the F-year,” I mutter. “No one wants to talk about the F-year.”

There was no point in talking anyway. When the worst of the virus was over, everyone was so burned-out by illness that they just wanted to forget. People took off their masks, if they’d bothered to wear them at all, and swapped stories about how virtue or eating pool cleaner—not science and luck—had kept them safe.

And those lifelines that we’d so desperately clung to together, the remote medical appointments and free testing and permission to just be sick without having to apologize for it? It turns out those had an expiration date, and even whispering about the coronavirus that wiped out seven million souls made you the new buzzkill. Healthy is always in vogue, after all.

“I didn’t mind getting to stay home,” Francesca reflects, almost like it was an optional break instead of a narrowly dodged doomsday. She turns her attention back to the scene before us. “At least I didn’t have to deal with Pat.”

The situation between the two teams is clearly escalating, at least judging by the rise in voices and the fact that Brandon’s shoulders are so high that they count as hackles. Pat is the opposite, slouching his weight back on one foot, pausing his verbal tirade long enough only to let his cronies add in their live laugh track. “Yeah… about that…”

“Should we do something or just go?” Francesca asks, pausing far enough away that we could scurry in the other direction without anyone noticing.

I sigh, choosing the former option but only because Eliza would want me to stick up for her teammates. “You don’t have to come with me.” I know that Francesca doesn’t have a confrontational bone in her body, but that’s okay because I’m a Scorpio, so I’ve got 206 of them.

The shouting and profanity become easier to hear as I approach. It’s not so much a dispute as a one-sided attack. The issue seems to be the theft of the Sammy the Shark costume from the athletic storage room. I was wondering how the crew team managed to convince the lacrosse coach to lend them the mascot.

Brandon, still dressed as a goldfish, takes the costume from Kayla and tries to return it. “Here. Sorry. We didn’t think it was a big deal.”

“We don’t want it now that you’ve rubbed your fucking fish dick on it, man.”

Francesca leans against me, whispering, “What do we do?”

“This is so petty.” I don’t how much more of a toxic, homophobic asshole Pat Zeller can be before he actually grows a second anus on his forehead or something. I’ve never forgiven him for “Fran-chest-a”—the seventh-grade nickname that still makes Francesca walk everywhere with her arms folded, her fingers tucked under the straps of her backpack.

I put on my cheeriest smile and step between the two groups before this escalates even more than it already has. I don’t like to get involved in stuff like this, but most people listen when I talk, if only to avoid my revenge when they want something changed in the yearbook. “You know you’re not all going to be able to play this season if you get in a fight, so let’s just leave it.”

I feel the creep of eyes and glance over, registering that Oliver is still there, still watching me. I wish he would just go home already. Go work on his screenplay and bake with his grandmother and bond with his rescue animals. And be perfect.

And forget how I blew through his life like a tempest, an unwitting tribute to the line he whispered in my ear that idyllic morning, with dying junior prom flowers on the bedside and my dress shed just inside the threshold. Awake, dear heart, awake.

The linemen back away a bit now that I’ve inserted myself into their spat, but Pat doesn’t budge. “We’ll get the costume dry-cleaned or take it to a fish-dick exorcist or something,” I say. “Everybody good with that?”

Pat takes a deep breath. His shoulders rise and drop. “Okay. Fine.” He shifts to my right and extends his hand to Brandon. “Shake on it?”

As Brandon moves to reciprocate, Pat lashes out with a quick jab and punches him in the face. Brandon stumbles, blood spraying from his nose, and I scramble to catch him before he can fall on the rough asphalt. But Pat isn’t finished. His next blow, this time from his left, is midswing by the time I notice. I’ve stepped straight into it.

Seeing stars is an understatement; I discover new galaxies in the microseconds it takes my brain to process the shock of impact. The momentum. Gravity.

On instinct I throw out one arm toward the ground and wrap the other around my head. My left arm buckles under the combined weight of me, Brandon, and the shark costume, sending spikes of pain bursting through my shoulder. I lie there, gasping, feeling the warmth of blood trickling from the side of my mouth.

Beyond the throbbing in my ears, I hear one of the lacrosse players screaming while Francesca pulls Brandon off of me. “What did you do? You! Punched! Brynn! Kwan!”

He punched Brynn Kwan.

About The Author

Photograph by James Mangle

Bethany Mangle is the author of the Prepped, All the Right Reasons, and Conditions of a Heart. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys spoiling her dogs, playing video games, and spending time with her unbearably nerdy husband. She moves too much to put a location in her bio ever again. Visit her at BethanyMangle.com.

Why We Love It

“Bethany Mangle’s dry humor and unflinching honesty combine to create an unforgettable heroine in Brynn Kwan. I cheered for her highs and wanted to hug her at her lows—and of course, laughed at her corny jokes.”

—Nicole F., Editor, on Conditions of the Heart

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (February 20, 2024)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665937634
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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Raves and Reviews

* "Mangle’s third YA brings in pieces of the author’s own life (hEDS, POTS, ADHD), connects them to COVID-era changes in accessibility, and masterfully sets it all against a backdrop of prep-school suburban New Jersey with an all-too-realistic relationship breakup to sweeten the trauma. This book is highly recommended for its portrayal of invisible disabilities, neurodiversity, and the impact of the purported "end of the pandemic” on disabled populations."

Booklist, starred review

** "In this emotionally rich story drawn from personal experience, as discussed in an author’s note, Mangle (All the Right Reasons) explores lingering trauma of early pandemic lockdowns and institutionalized privilege alongside myriad intersections of illness and self-image. Brynn is a complex and sympathetic protagonist whose journey of self-discovery proves both frustrating and fulfilling as she comes to terms with her limits and goals."

Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Poignant and insightful."

– Kirkus

"Achingly touching, heartfelt and true, Brynn's story of reinvention and self-discovery resonates on every page. A book to savor and hold dear."

– Kathleen Glasgow, New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces and The Agathas

“This book kept me laughing with its endless wry wit and emotionally captivated with its introspection of society's attitudes toward health and disability, especially in a post COVIDian era when we have seen the accommodations that are possible. I read it in a single day.”

– Xiran Jay Zhao, New York Times bestselling author of Iron Widow

Conditions of a Heart beats with intense feelings from lost love to the classic struggle of trying to be who you are. Mangle weaves an equally heartbreaking and funny narrative in this poignant story about a disabled girl struggling to find her place in a post-Covid world.”

– Meredith Ireland, Author of The Jasmine Project and Everyone Hates Kelsie Miller

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