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Shark Heart by Emily Habeck
Literary fiction

Shark Heart

BOTY FINALIST

Each year thousands of members vote for our Book of the Year award—congrats to Shark Heart!

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Emily Habeck, on your first book!

by Emily Habeck

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Quick take

Prepare to have a big bite taken out of your heart by this lyrical meditation on marriage, grief, and carnivorous fish.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Quirky

    Quirky

Synopsis

For Lewis and Wren, their first year of marriage is also their last. A few weeks after their wedding, Lewis receives a rare diagnosis. He will retain most of his consciousness, memories, and intellect, but his physical body will gradually turn into a great white shark. As Lewis develops the features and impulses of one of the most predatory creatures in the ocean, his complicated artist’s heart struggles to make peace with his unfulfilled dreams.

At first, Wren internally resists her husband’s fate. Is there a way for them to be together after Lewis changes? Then, a glimpse of Lewis’s developing carnivorous nature activates long-repressed memories for Wren, whose story vacillates between her childhood living on a houseboat in Oklahoma, her time with a college ex-girlfriend, and her unusual friendship with a woman pregnant with twin birds. Woven throughout this bold novel is the story of Wren’s mother, Angela, who becomes pregnant with Wren at fifteen in an abusive relationship amidst her parents’ crumbling marriage. In the present, all of Wren’s grief eventually collides, and she is forced to make an impossible choice.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Shark Heart.
Shark Heart

SCENE ONE

LEWIS: In the early days after I left New York, I would ruminate, doubt all my choices. But when I met you, I began to thank my failure. Maybe failing was a kind of miracle. Maybe everything happened just right.

WREN: You are an excellent teacher. You’ve said so yourself: everything in New York led you to what you should have been doing all along if you weren’t so stubborn. And you’re still so young. You can do anything. You can act, perform in plays again, if you want. I could support us if you want to try again.

LEWIS: Thank you, but that’s not what— I,

I am saying the wrong things.

I’m talking too much about myself.

What my point is, what I’m getting at is:

My failure as an artist led me to you,

with your bird wrists, twig fingers,

you, with your efficient days

making lists

researching

you, who can make a spreadsheet

about almost anything.

You make everything better than when you found it,

even me.

LEWIS (continued): Will you let me stand beside you on your plot of earth? We’ll tell the weeds to grow tall around our ankles, and when the wind gives us sycamore seeds, we’ll raise them as sprouts, seedlings, saplings until they overpower, shade, and nurture us. Our trees will grow for two hundred years or more as our union becomes even more unquestionable and strong. Unquestionable because no one will remember a time when we were not creating our universe. Strong because trees two hundred years old have been great witnesses to it all. Then, one day, we’ll die gladly into the soil we shared, and fungi will take over what was once our bodies. Bouquets of mushrooms, little families, will mark the place of our lives.

To be of the ground is to be of life.

You taught me that.

You,

a woman whose deepest belly laugh makes no sound

a woman who notices every detail

a woman made of a brilliance you don’t see

no matter how many times I show you.

Sometimes I wonder if you might not be a person at all,

but a spirit

or a fairy

or a memory,

and I’m watching Good Morning America in a hospital room or a prison, or maybe this is all the most wonderful, strange dream. I don’t want to wake up. I like to think we met in a daydream once, a long time ago, and decided to meet right here, right now. Wren, you are the most complicated person I have ever known. I mean—in the best way, complicated, and somehow terrifically unaffected by fragile things like youth, beauty, promises, and dreams, and I want to keep on knowing you—well, trying to—all the days of my life. So, I want to ask you: Will you marry me, Wren? Will you be my wife?

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Why I love it

That first year of marriage is hard enough without one newlywed morphing into a great white shark.

When I heard the premise of Emily Habeck’s debut novel, Shark Heart, my head couldn’t decide which way to bobble. First, I found myself shaking it, as in: Could that actually work? But soon I was nodding with vigor: This is the kind of delightfully original story I adore. I couldn’t wait to read it.

Pragmatic Wren and artistic Lewis make an intriguing couple even before Lewis’s game-changing (ahem, species-changing) diagnosis. Habeck’s characters are masterfully drawn, and their opposites-attract romance simmers with delicious tension. But when Lewis learns that he is transforming into one of earth’s great predators—and has less than a year until the metamorphosis is complete—the story quickly becomes so much more. It’s a story about navigating change and living authentically. About what it means to be human. About saying goodbye.

Prepare for tears, yes, but also to marvel at how Habeck’s precise yet lyrical prose makes this absurd situation feel normal—even beautiful. It’s quite a feat to weave such a wild speculative element into a story that feels fundamentally relatable, resonant, human. Yes, Shark Heart is the kind of delightfully original story I adore, and the sort of book I’ll be pressing into the hands of friends with a vigorous nod. Yes, it actually works.

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Member ratings (12,187)

  • Beth F.

    Catawissa, PA

    Absolutely gorgeous and stirring read. I cried, laughed and felt all the feelings with this one! Absolutely brilliantly written. Reading this makes me appreciate the world around me more. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Margaret H.

    Nantucket, MA

    The weirdest and best book I’ve read all summer! This book is the quote “History doesn’t repeat, it rhymes” personified in a singular person’s life story. Cannot wait to reread next summer 🦈❤️

  • Ashley C.

    Huntsville, AL

    I finished this in one day as I just couldn’t put it down. It’s magical realism at its finest - Wren will have your heart. I was sad and happy at the same time - a lovely first novel 🦈 ❤️ 🐦 🐉!

  • Ashlie O.

    Colorado Springs, CO

    I am in awe of what I’ve just read. Shark Heart had me sobbing, chuckling, then sobbing again. I can’t wait to tell everyone I know to read this. Love, loss and insane mutations! What a ride. 5 ⭐️’s!

  • Miranda S.

    West Allis, WI

    Wow. I freaking LOVED this book. It’s so unique, and the writing style is eloquent. It’s such a weird concept, but so beautifully executed. As the author writes “suspend your disbelief” & just read it

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