The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae – Stephanie Butland

Being a teenager is tough. It always has been – it was almost certainly tough being somewhere between 12 and 20 even before teenage-ness was invented (as Lucy Worsley’s book from my previous review shows). Whatever society thought young people of that age should be doing (working in mines and factories, marrying and starting to provide heirs or getting a good education) the hormones have, surely, always been there. In the 1500s they, presumably, expressed their angst by sobbing into their virginals or writing rather pointed poetry and in the Victorian era fainting and consumption were popular responses: teens in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have the option of YA novels centred around death. Some focus on murders, and some on suicide, sudden death is also a common theme but some of the best known centre on a young person with a terminal illness or condition. It might seem an odd sort of trend to an adult reader (even though we may all have felt a frisson of something when we read about Helen Burns’ death in Jane Eyre…) but it is a genuine phenomena which helps many younger readers to learn about life and death. But, sometimes, I wonder where the fictional youngsters who survive their traumas, their cancers and illnesses are? What happens to the ones who, against all the odds, do get to grow up?

37435951Stephanie Butland gives us the story of one such person – Ailsa Rae. She has spent her entire life, all 28 years of it, coping with a congenital heart defect. She has had to make allowances for it, missed out on things other people do without thinking and, in recent years, she has blogged about it under the name Blue Heart. While waiting for her transplant she comforts and supports Lennox – her former boyfriend and close friend – who never gets the liver transplant he needs. Now that Ailsa has her new heart she has a lot to learn: how to live with the loss of Lennox, how to gain her independence from her mother without irreparably damaging their relationship, how, in short, to live now that she isn’t going to die. She starts by learning how to tango…

I really enjoyed this book – it is a light romance novel but also had me thinking quite seriously about how it must feel to both be waiting on an organ transplant list and to recover from such a major operation*. I liked Ailsa’s blogging persona – again she was very informative but without blinding us with medical language – and the way that she used blog polls to help her make decisions. We see Ailsa grow up – her condition meant that she had to be looked after for 28 years, she couldn’t get a job, couldn’t live alone – and lose the air of perpetual adolescence. Finally we also see her learning the lesson which many adults never do – working out both who is worthy of love and how to be loved herself.


*And yes, I am on the organ donor register. Are you?



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