Title: The Heart Does Not Grow Back
Plot Type: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2-3; Humor—2-2
In Part 2, which begins several years after graduation, Dale has a minimum-wage seasonal job as a weed-whacker on a local mowing crew. Mack has gone off to college, where he appears to spend most of his time drinking and partying with as many women as possible. In contrast, Dale lives a solitary life, existing on cereal, pizza, and beer; watching TV reruns and religious programming, particularly a sleazy healer; and obsessing about suicide. He buys a gun at Wal-Mart and also contemplates hanging, razor blades, asphyxiation, and electrocution. Dale figures that everyone is doing something that will hasten their death. "Call suicide what you want. If you're not blowing your brains out, you're dying by neglect. You're ignoring that suspicious mole, or smoking, or cultivating that roll of belly fat, or eating too much sodium…" (p. 87)
Then one day Dale runs into an old acquaintance: Regina's twin sister, Raeanna, who is a check-out clerk at Wal-Mart. Rae is married to an abuser named Harold, and Dale immediately falls for her and begins planning to save her. Just as with Regina, Dale's "love affair" with Rae is all in his head. He never discusses his feelings or his plans with Rae and is soon faced not only with rejection, but with Harold's vengeful actions when he learns of Dale's attentions to his wife. Dale's plans require money, so he takes the first step in making use of his regenerative powers by trying to find a way to sell his organs for as much cash as possible. The Internet becomes his impersonal, all-knowing source of information—about Harold, about regeneration, about street-fighting, and about psychological profiling. "Who needs a mental-health professional when one can Google the answers and self-medicate?" (p. 127) But once again, Dale's actions do more harm than good, both to himself and to Rae. Meanwhile, the government has gotten wind of Dale's abilities and they're on his trail, so he heads off to California with Mack.
I particularly appreciated the author's take on healing. Usually, a superhero heals instantly, with seemingly little pain or discomfort, but that's not the case with Dale. Having been a fire victim and a car-accident victim, Venturini knows from experience the pain that comes during the healing process, and he allows us to watch Dale as he suffers through the excruciating itching and burning as limbs regrow and the semiconscious suffering as organs come back to life. It's a different approach that emphasizes the fact that Dale isn't your ordinary superhero.
In the final chapters, Dale's life comes to a tipping point when Rae shows up at his door. Once again, Dale makes his own private plans, and once again things go wrong. There are several twists at the end, one that I was able to predict, but still enjoy, and the finale leaves Dale with a new freedom to regenerate his life—his inner life, if he can just pull himself together and get out of his head and in touch with reality—true reality, not TV reality. That ending, by the way, comes perilously close to becoming a unicorn-and-rainbows finale.