Deb Caletti

A Heart in a Body in the World

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A Heart in a Body in the World Summary

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A Heart in a Body in the World is a 2018 work of contemporary fiction by American author Deb Caletti. It follows teenager Annabelle Agnelli who travels on foot from Seattle to Washington D.C. to lobby for gun reform laws after a shooting at a party claimed her boyfriend and best friend. Over the course of her journey, she deals with her own guilt about the crime, since it was committed by a classmate to whom she did not reciprocate a romantic attraction; she calls him “The Taker.” Joined by her grandfather, Ed, she tries to outrun her guilt, ultimately accepting that the guilt is not hers to bear. The novel received positive criticism for addressing the common phenomena of survivor’s guilt and victim blaming in a contemporary America suffering from sexual assault and gun violence epidemics.

The novel begins in Seattle at a locally owned burger and fries restaurant called Dick’s. Agnelli is accosted by a man who aggressively hits on her, and when she signals her disinterest, he touches her inappropriately. Agnelli is suddenly paralyzed by a related memory of a boy from high school who sexually assaulted her in the past. When she rebuffed him and sought recourse through her school, the boy became violent and brought a gun to school, where he shot several of her classmates. A series of similar flashbacks punctuate the rest of the story, depicting her journey from tragedy through therapy as she tries to recover from the assault and shooting.

After the shooting, Agnelli struggles for almost a year to erase the traumatic memory. She feels responsible for The Taker’s crime despite all signals that point to her being not culpable. Eventually deciding that she will not recover as long as she remains in Seattle, she makes plans to run over 2,700 miles to the nation’s capital. Realizing that she is suffering from severe posttraumatic stress disorder, Agnelli’s mother tries to stop her from embarking on the physically and emotionally risky feat. Grandpa Ed placates her by offering to drive alongside Agnelli in his old RV. Agnelli’s friends Olivia and Zach also step in, along with her younger brother, Malcolm, forming her publicity team. Over the course of her journey, Agnelli’s goal is revealed to be to get the attention of politician Seth Greggory and force him to implement better gun control and mental health laws.

Agnelli makes it through the entire 2,700 miles as planned; each night, she rests in Grandpa Ed’s RV. Her mother slowly becomes supportive of her trek, thanks to the support of Malcolm, Olivia, and Zach. As Agnelli finishes her walk to Washington D.C., she relives her memories of her former boyfriend, Will, and best friend, Kat, both of whom were killed by The Taker. The journey in itself, rather than its destination comes to represent emotional catharsis. At the novel’s end, she reaches Washington D.C. and has a final flashback to the evening of the shooting, a memory she had repressed. This time, when the flashback ends, Grandpa Ed is there to comfort her.

A Heart in a Body in the World shows that no one has to go through trauma alone. Agnelli ultimately recuperates by addressing the immorality of gun access while also taking care of her emotional well-being.