When we first meet Ailsa Rae she is in hospital, waiting for a new heart. Her twenty-eight year life has been a challenging one. She is cyanotic due to the fact that her heart cannot pump the blood and much needed oxygen throughout her body. She is breathless… and very weak. Her illness has made her understandably self-centered. When your whole world is hospitals and illness – when you can only think from day to day because even next week in uncertain, then your world becomes small – and egocentric.
Ailsa is a blogger. She shares her health journey with her many followers. She calls herself ‘BlueHeart‘ because her lips and skin have a bluish tinge. She relies heavily on her follower’s opinions and creates polls to enable them to vote on which direction she should take on myriad subjects.
Ailsa’s boyfriend, Lennox, was also in hospital waiting for a liver transplant, but he didn’t receive one in time and now he has passed away… Ailsa misses him terribly, and suffers from survivor’s guilt.
“Ailsa had been an injured bird, and her mother was the cupped hands that protected her.”
Ailsa has a close relationship with her mother, Hayley. It has always been just the two of them and it has been a difficult journey for them both. Ailsa has been ill since birth and Hayley has devoted her entire life to getting the best care for her daughter.
Then, Ailsa and Hayley’s prayers are answered. Ailsa gets a new heart. She names her new heart ‘Apple’. Some might think it odd that Ailsa named her new heart. I did not. It seems normal to me that a heart donor recipient would always be cognizant of the fact that someone else had to die in order for you to live. You’d wonder what kind of life the donor had…
As she learns to live again, she experiences many of the things she only dreamed of before. She can now walk without breathlessness, she can make plans for the future. Now, though she adores her mother, she wants to gain some independence and discover whether she can live on her own. She also becomes more curious about her biological father whom she has never met.
She travels from her home in Edinburgh to London in order to participate in a radio interview with organ recipients. There she meets Seb, an actor who has just undergone a corneal transplant. The two hit it off and begin a tentative relationship mostly comprised of texts. While reading the book, I imagined Seb looking like Justin Hartley (star of “This Is Us”)
She joins a dance troupe and learns to tango. Dancing will open doors that she never dreamed would open for her…
“Being ill for so long, waiting for a heart for so long, made me a permanent child. Today – a year on from transplant day – I’m an adult. And I’m going to be honest: I don’t like it as much as I thought I would.”
When I first began reading this novel I thought Ailsa was just a bit too naive, too immature, yet understandably so – as her world was small. As Ailsa’s world grew, after she received her new heart, so too did my regard for the book. I enjoyed being a witness to her growth and her thoughts. How she became empathetic and more mature. That’s the beauty of Butland’s writing. Her characters grow and your fondness for them grows along with every page.
This novel seemed well researched and cast a spotlight on the urgent need for organ donors. It also brought up a lot of questions about social media’s place in our lives. Should we be anonymous on social media? Is it really anyone else’s business what we do, what we look like?
In summation, I really enjoyed Ailsa Rae’s story and was a bit sad when the final page was read. I’ll miss her. A curious (and successful) mix of serious literary fiction, a coming-of-age novel, with lighter, chick-lit/romance. Highly recommended.
“The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae” was my first ever ‘Buddy Read’.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from St. Martin’s Griffin/Macmillan via Edelweiss.
Stephanie Butland is a writer, who is thriving after breast cancer. (She used to say she was a survivor, but that was a bit lacking in joie de vivre.)
Although she’d never have chosen it, her dance with cancer has changed her life in many positive ways. Now she is happier, healthier, and more careful with her precious life and the precious people and things in it.
Her writing career began with her dance with cancer, and now she is a novelist.
Aside from writing, she works as a speaker and trainer, and she works with charities to help raise awareness and money in the hope that cancer will soon be about as scary as a wart.
Stephanie Butland lives in Northumberland. She likes words and tea.
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