The Art of the Heart - Dan Skinner
Every time I think Dan Skinner has plumbed the depths of his exceptional talent, he digs a little deeper and proves that he is nowhere near its bottom. This is a short story that Dan wrote a number of years ago. He thought it wasn’t worth publishing, so he set it aside. I, for one, am so glad he decided to give it another look.

The Art of the Heart is Zac’s story. Zac is quiet, shy and lonely in small town USA in 1965. His only companionship is found between the pages of the new (read: six months old) comic books his dad allows him to buy when they make a trip into town.

All the families in Sweetwater, MO are farm families. There just isn’t anything else to do. On a neighboring farm, the McHenrys are a large family compared to Zac’s own status as an only child. The oldest child in the McHenry family is Rory. He is three years older than Zac’s thirteen when we first meet him. Rory tags along on a trip Zac and his father take into town. Mr. Weston insists that there is enough room in the cab of the pick-up for Zac to sit on Rory’s lap. Zac discovers a whole new, exciting world that day.

Zac, in addition to reading comic books, has a photographic memory for everything he sees, and is able to pull those scenes out of his mind and draw them in minute detail later. He develops an attraction and fascination for Rory and wonders if he could draw his own comic book, with Rory in the starring role as the secret superhero.

The Art of the Heart, a title that so perfectly suits this amazing story, refers to that comic book. The love and loneliness that Zac feels in his heart, and his desire for Rory and for something more, is poured out onto the pages of his sketch pad. Zac knows that in that time, in that place, he won’t be allowed to be what he is. He yearns to be able to be himself and it is only on the pages of that pad that he is able to really express his truest feelings and desires.

This is a beautiful, heart-warming story of a boy coming of age and wanting what he knows he can’t have. It is a story of yearning and desire and need, all of which are felt by every teenager everywhere, ever. But in this case, those feelings belong to Zac Weston. He is more than your average teenager. He is sweet and talented, smart and good; all the things parents hope their children grow to become.

While heart-warming, The Art of the Heart also does what we are coming to expect from Dan Skinner. It makes us cry. For Zac’s loneliness, his rejection, his fear and anxiety about being found out. His pain just about comes off the pages in waves as he sees Rory with one girl after another. But then something magical happens. I won’t tell you what, because reading it will turn you into a big puddle of goo, and I don’t want to take that away from you.

Dan Skinner has done it again with The Art of the Heart. He has written something that touches every reader on such a soul-deep level, you remember what it was like when you were thirteen and found out for the first time what your dick (or clitoris) is capable of. The awe Zac feels, the confusion at his sexual awakening just…it really made me FEEL. There just aren’t the right words to describe it. Well, there are, and Dan used them! And the ones he used are just so, so… insert your choice of adjectives here. I can’t choose just one. The words Dan uses are just right. I strongly recommend this book to anyone with a heart.