Jewish Currents Magazine


I spent a few hours this past weekend reading Your Hearts, Your Scars, a slim, potent collection of essays by the writer Adina Talve-Goodman (z”l) about the fullness and the complexities of a life lived with “two hearts in my possession: one inside, and one out.” The first is the donated heart she received at age 19; the second, the single-ventricle one she was born with, which led her to experience heart failure at age 12. “Is your suffering dear to you?” she asks herself three times in the opening essay, quoting a story from Talmud. There and elsewhere, Adina treads through questions of ableism, strength, and shame with lightness and humor. In another essay, she entertains a suitor’s suggestion that there might be something zombie-like about living in a body containing a dead stranger’s heart, admitting there were days when she “did walk about the world feeling a lot like death in drag”—but ultimately she finds the greater horror lies in being cherished for her scars.

The collection itself is unfinished—Adina died of a rare and swift cancer caused by post-transplant immunosuppressants in January of 2018, 11 years after she received the donor heart. It’s easy to lose sight of the specific gifts of this book within the many layers of her living legacy: In a postscript, Hannah Tinti, the One Story magazine editor who helped edit this collection, characterizes Adina as “a hero in colorful scarves and overalls” with “a weakness for glitter and Cher.” Adina was the managing editor of One Story, a performer and trained clown, and the daughter of two rabbis. (Her mother, Rabbi Susan Talve, is known for opening her St. Louis synagogue to BLM protesters in 2014 and 2017.) Even after the transplant, Adina held on to the heart she was born with—not, she tells a nosy doctor, because it’s “a Jewish thing to take your organs home with you,” but because she wanted to keep what was rightfully hers and maybe to find out what a “dying heart” contains. The heart was released to her “in an urn through a funeral parlor,” she recounts drily, “as my own ‘remains.’”

The essays here deal in a troubled economy of gratitude and gifts, where one person’s death becomes another person’s life. But they are populated with the seemingly lightweight details of young adulthood: makeout sessions in basements and in cars, awkward breakups, too-long conversations with strangers, encounters on late-night subway platforms. On a walk to an Iowa cemetery on the ten-year anniversary of her transplant, where she means to pray but realizes she cannot recall the words, Adina remembers that the second-century miracle worker Shimon bar Yochai is said to have lived with “one eye laughing and one eye crying.” These essays devote themselves to living in this space, refusing the ostensible weight of their subject with a bright, insistent humor.

Adina was a new friend the year we both lived in Iowa (her first and my last), warm and sharp and generous and funny. Reading these essays lent new valences to my memories of hiking with her in the woods near my house, of sharing cocktails one night at a dance party that turned out not to be dance-y enough, of burning intentions in her backyard under a new moon. I was moved by the way a voice really can stay alive in print, how encountering Adina in these pages made her briefly, vividly present. There’s a moment in one essay when she bristles at being called “pretty” by a nurse, and concludes that what the nurse must mean is that she looks “a lot like life.” It’s a phrase I want to use to describe this book, which is too brief, and incomplete, but full of life regardless.

Lit Hub

I stood next to a man at a bar with a four-dollar beer in one hand, my coat in the other, and no good way to grab my pills at 10:00 p.m. I’d spent a lot of nights at bars that week and I’d missed my 10:00 p.m. deadline more than once. It’s the easiest thing, the only thing I have to do, really, to stay alive—just take the pills at the same time every morning and every night in order to have the perfect amount of medicine in my system so that my body doesn’t suddenly wake up and say, Fuck this heart, rip it up, it doesn’t belong. And still, sometimes, I forget, I slip up, I’m late. If 10:00 p.m. becomes 10:15 p.m., that’s okay, that’s not too bad. If 10:15 p.m. becomes 11:00 p.m., that’s no good, that’s missing the half-hour window I was once told I had. Then I take them with a swig of beer, a sip of whiskey, a shot of tequila once, and I think, Well, look at you, you undeserving idiot. But I’ve been lucky, we say, I’ve been so very lucky. Not one bit of rejection, not a one, sometimes in spite of me.

I didn’t know much about the man. Or, rather, I knew a few small things and one large thing. We’d both had heart transplants. It’s not really bar talk.

To read the rest of this piece, go here.

Excerpt from “Your Hearts, Your Scars.” Copyright © 2022 by Adina Talve-Goodman. Forthcoming Jan. 24, 2023, by Bellevue Literary Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Electric Literature

Will I feel it?” I ask the doctor as I do a slight hop onto the operating table. He turns to me while pulling on his gloves. “Latex allergy,” I say, lifting my wrist to show him my plastic bracelet that says just that.

“What happens when you come into contact with latex?”

My eyes meet the resident’s gaze and he quickly looks away, blushing. He’s about my age, I guess, and suddenly I’m conscious of the sheerness of my hospital gown and the outline of my breasts. If he looks closely enough, he might be able to see my new heart pounding, my chest rising and falling from the beat, my skin pulled tight like a drum over the new instrument. I think about telling the doctor the truth: If I take it in my mouth, nothing happens, but if I have sex with latex condoms, it burns for days. Instead, I look at the floor and say, “Rash.”

The doctor switches his gloves and tells me to “lay down.” It’s lie, I think.

Instruments start moving, metal-on-metal sounds, and I whip my head from one direction to another, trying to see. The nurse pulls my hair back into a shower cap and tells me that I’m so pretty, she didn’t think I was a patient when she came out to call my name in the waiting room. I smile at her and resist the urge to ask what other patients look like. She means it as a kindness, I know. But pretty is the wrong word, I want to tell her. The truth is, we don’t really have a word to describe a woman who comes through something a lot like death and remains light. We don’t have it for boys, either, so we say strong for them. We say pretty when we mean you look a lot like life.

I thank her and ask, “Do you strap me in? Should you hold me down?”

“Haven’t you had a lot of these?” the doctor asks.

“I was always asleep.” 


“Because I was a kid, I guess. Because I might try to run, maybe.” I smile at my small attempt at a joke. I smile and make jokes in these situations because I think that people, doctors, are more likely to want to keep funny people alive. The doctor laughs as he holds up the catheter, the small needle he plans to insert into the base of my neck, and then cast a thin line down into my heart. The nurse stands to my right and strokes my hair. I take a deep breath to slow my heart and I think about how biopsies used to be for me when I was younger. The walls of the lab at St. Louis Children’s Hospital were painted with stars. Maybe because it was comforting to think of something like this happening in the dead of night, when a kid could sleep through it, wake up six hours later still a little drugged, saying, And you were there, and you, and you. But inevitably, that kid would reach her hand up to the sore spot at the base of her neck and realize it had all been real, in some way, those minutes when someone was taking pieces of her heart.

To read the rest of this piece, go here.

Excerpt from “Your Hearts, Your Scars.” Copyright © 2022 by Adina Talve-Goodman. Forthcoming Jan. 24, 2023, by Bellevue Literary Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Hadassah Magazine

Review by Sandee Brawarsky

Published in Hadassah Magazine January 2023

This short, compelling collection of personal essays gives readers a glimpse into the life of a young woman living with a transplanted heart. The daughter of two rabbis, Talve-Goodman was born with a congenital heart condition and received a transplant at age 19. In her writing, she is a sharp observer, funny, grateful and very likeable, who understands deeply that her adult life is tied to the loss of another person.

She recounts young romances, adventures as an editor in New York City, hospital visits, reactions to the scars from her surgery and ordinary encounters that take on significance. Sadly, Talve-Goodman passed away at age 31. Published posthumously, her essays will reverberate in many hearts. 

Forward Reviews

by Jaime Herndon

Published in Foward Reviews January / February 2023

Reflective and forthright, Adina Talve-Goodman’s posthumously published essay collection Your Hearts, Your Scars discusses chronic illness, the corporeal body, and the privilege of being alive.

Talve-Goodman was born with congenital heart issues, went into heart failure at the age of twelve, and was put on the transplant list at seventeen. Two years later, she received a new heart. She had eleven years of good health and no complications before being diagnosed with a rare lymphoma caused by her post-transplant immunosuppressant drugs. In her essays, she muses on disabilities, the fallibility of the human body, intimacy and vulnerability, faith, health, medicine, and love—and the intersections between these factors. Acutely aware that she is alive because someone else is not, she tries to untangle the threads of what this means while also remaining aware of how others in the transplant community cope.

Some of the essays represent separate drafts that were combined after Talve-Goodman’s death. As a rule, their prose is sharp and incisive, if occasionally overly self-aware. Talve-Goodman avoids self-pity and pandering for sympathy to relay events in matter-of-fact, wry terms. Still, despite their personal nature, the essays don’t betray much of Talve-Goodman’s personality. They are shared from a distance and seem almost wary of the impact that their words might have.

Illustrating the complex experience of organ transplantation and chronic illness, the essays of Your Hearts, Your Scars exist in the liminal spaces between health and sickness and between living and dying. They explore what it means to be alive, to have a body, and to come back from the brink of death.

I Must Have Been That Man

“I suspect there was some kind of fall,” she said,
even if it was just a little stumble.”

“I Must Have Been That Man” by James Tate

On a Monday night in October when I was twenty, I walked home with a boy from a party drinking cheap whiskey and sharing puffs of his cigarette. We stopped on the stairs outside of my apartment and kissed. I asked if he wanted to spend the night. This is healthy, I told myself, this is college.

In my room, we laughed and shushed each other, fumbling around with buttons and zippers until he took off my shirt.

“What’s this,” he said as he traced the scar down the middle of my chest, his fingers lingering on the keloids, the small, hardened lumps of scar tissue that punctuated the already prominent pink line.

“I had a heart transplant,” I said.


“A year ago.”


I waited for him to ask the usual questions: why did you need it, are you okay now, what about the donor.

“You have great boobs,” he said.

To read the rest of this essay, go here.

Excerpt from “Your Hearts, Your Scars.” Copyright © 2022 by Adina Talve-Goodman. Forthcoming Jan. 24, 2023, by Bellevue Literary Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

(Y)Our Hearts, (Y)Our Scars: How Adina Talve Goodman Changed My Life

by Arvin Ramgoolam

Published in ANMLY

At some point you have to rationalize all the rejection you face as a writer. If you can’t, then it’s time to take a hard look and measure it against the things that bring you joy and decide which of those things you want to be a vessel for. I was turning 40 and had very few successes in my writing life. I had twin girls to raise and a bookstore and cafe to run. My family had been full of men who made poor decisions in life that affected their children in bad ways, and pursuing writing began to feel like the wrong decision as I considered my own children’s future. Had the direction of my world pivoted toward New York City, or the possibility of returning to school to pursue an MFA, then I would have been justified in slogging on with writerly dreams in my head, but I had fallen in love with a girl and the town she was born and raised in. And in that town we started a bookstore. A boy, a girl, a bookshop. The stuff of Hallmark movies. With our twin girls, a life filled with snowy days, and books in the heart of the picturesque Rocky Mountains, I would have learned to live without a part of myself that had sustained me through difficult times.

Then I applied for the Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship. I read everything I could about Adina. I read her award-winning story, I Must Have Been That Man. I was immediately moved by her humanity, her self awareness, and her skill on the page. In that essay, I met someone I would never have a chance to speak to. Next, I read her memorial page. Adina died of cancer in 2018. I could see that she was an amazing talent robbed of a future but possessing an indomitable spirit that would survive to help underserved writers along their own journey.

To read the rest of this essay, go here.

The Condition of My Transplanted Heart Is One of Remembering

The heart came from somewhere in the Midwest by plane to St. Louis Children’s Hospital during game 5 of the 2006 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers. My mother heard cheers as the surgeon stepped off the elevator with the cooler containing the organ. She took a picture of the surgeon and the cooler in the same moment that Adam Wainwright threw the final pitch, a strike, to Brandon Inge and the Cardinals became champions. In the picture, the surgeon is smiling. The cooler containing the organ is navy blue; the surgeon holds it with one hand. Years after the transplant, I find the photo on my mother’s phone while trying to help her clear space for more memory. She asks me to leave it there because she sometimes likes to look at it. I zoom in on the cooler—it is the closest I’ve ever come to seeing the heart now inside my chest or a picture of the donor.

To read the rest of this piece, go here.

Excerpt from “Your Hearts, Your Scars.” Copyright © 2022 by Adina Talve-Goodman. Forthcoming Jan. 24, 2023, by Bellevue Literary Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Review

December 15, 2022

In this posthumously published essay collection, Talve-Goodman (1986-2018) openly shares the history of her body. Born with a congenital heart condition, she chronicles her medical experiences ranging from an 11-hour marathon back surgery that untethered her spinal cord to the implantation of her new heart in 2006 when she was 19. A collaborative effort “made out of love and grief,” the text, edited by the author’s sister and novelist Tinti, mixes creative nonfiction, memoir, and critical theory. In the opening essay, the author recalls a night as a 20-year-old college student when she exposed her chest to a boyfriend and admitted to having had a heart transplant just one year prior. In another impassioned story, she recounts a memorable trip to San Diego with a group of other teens with organ transplants, noting the solidarity of people with “displaced” kidneys, livers, and hearts and how the identities of their donors can become a vexing mystery. Talve-Goodman candidly reflects on her own physical self-consciousness, graphically describing squirmy biopsy procedures. After a two-year wait for a new heart and countless surgeries, she admits, “I wasn’t good at much, but I was good at waiting.” The daughter of two rabbis, the author’s pride in her Jewish heritage infuses many essays, most of which read like nimble coming-of-age diary entries. Other pieces find her trying to harmonize with the “dead person’s heart” beating rapidly in her chest (a transplant typically takes a year to “thaw and reach its capacity”) or offering panicked discourse on organ donors and their correlation to “zombies.” While crafting her essays, Talve-Goodman became unexpectedly ill and succumbed to lymphoma in 2018 at age 31. Never maudlin or overly sympathetic, the book shows how she transformed her physical limitations into an outward source of strength, and her vividly drawn essays effectively enlighten and educate.

Heartfelt and richly passionate impressions from a creative writer gone too soon.