October 29, 2019
Genre/Categories: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, Mother/Daughter, Medical (transplants), Romance
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
Thanks, #netgalley #stmartinspress for a free egalley (ARC) of #thecuriousheartofailsarae by @stephaniebutlandauthor in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
We meet Ailsa Rae and her new heart, Apple, while Ailsa is recovering from heart transplant surgery. As she gives her new heart a name, gains her strength, contemplates the relationship with her mother, and the loss of her best friend/boyfriend, her thoughts turn to her future. She’s always lived as a sick girl with the reality of early death, and making plans for a career and living on her own is suddenly daunting. Through flashbacks, we learn about Ailsa’s life while she was waiting for a transplant, her relationship with Lennox, and her complicated relationship with her mother. Ailsa is a blogger. and she often runs polls on her blog asking advice from her followers.
Writing: I enjoyed the varied structure of The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae which includes 3rd person narrative, blog entries, emails, flashbacks, and news articles. The variety in the format helps make this a fast, engaging, and easy read, and it reflects real-life communication. I appreciate the humorous email exchanges and the good balance between light and heavy tones. Overall, it comes across as realistic, and the content appears well researched.
Issue-Centered: Although the story includes themes of a mother/daughter relationship, searching for bio father and a bit of romance, this is mainly an issue-centered book. It reminds me of Left Neglected by Lisa Genova where we learn about living with a traumatic brain injury. I appreciated experiencing life from Ailsa’s perspective as a heart transplant patient. We also meet Seb who is healing from a cornea transplant. I think the author did a wonderful job of helping us understand a transplant patient’s challenges and fears. I cheered for Ailsa, loved her sense of humor and courage, mentally voted in her blog polls, and hoped that she wouldn’t be hurt in the pursuit of her new relationship and new endeavors. Readers will be definitely realize the importance of becoming an organ donor.
Likable Character: If you’ve read The Lost for Words Bookshop by the same author, you know that Stephanie Butland has a talent for creating realistic characters. Ailsa Rae is definitely a likable character! I love that she names her heart and shows a great deal of concern and sensitivity for “Apple’s” well being. An especially interesting aspect of the story is Ailsa’s struggle with survivor’s guilt. Ailsa had been very protected throughout her childhood by her devoted mom, and I admire Ailsa for gently but firmly asserting her independence and for the small, brave risks she takes toward living a “normal” life. A few important steps she bravely navigates are to enroll in a dance class, to consent to an interview after winning a blogging award, and to explore a new relationship. I appreciate her growth throughout the story from living a sheltered life to considering living life to the fullest. Ailsa’s motto is “Do your best with the cards you’re dealt.” Can you relate?
Ailsa also has thoughts on bravery:
“It’s not bravery spending months in a hospital…it’s the absence of choice.”
“I always thought I was going to be brave and fierce, and it turns out that I’m average. Ordinary.”
Themes: Although the main theme revolves around waiting for and living with a transplant, The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae also includes thoughtful themes about being the mother of a special needs child, searching for a bio dad, grief, living a protected life, taking a risk on love, asserting your independence, finding your voice, bravery, living a “normal” life after a protected childhood, and a strong message about the importance of organ donation. I did not see the necessity for Ailsa’s negative self talk about her weight (which is probably the result of inactivity and meds).
Content warning: if you know someone on a transplant list or waiting to be placed on a transplant list, this could be triggering; there is also some negative body image/weight gain talk
Recommended: I highly recommend The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae for fans of Lisa Genova, for readers who appreciate heartwarming stories from unique perspectives, for those looking for engaging and compelling contemporary fiction, and for book clubs. Readers will definitely feel convicted about becoming an organ donor!
A special thank you to two instagram friends, Lynne @fictionophile56 and Elisabeth @cometreadings for our buddy read! You can find their reviews of The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae at Fictionophile.com and cometreadings.com
My Rating: 4 Stars
Meet the Author, Stephanie Butland
Stephanie Butland lives with her family near the sea in the North East of England. She writes in a studio at the bottom of her garden, and when she’s not writing, she trains people to think more creatively. For fun, she reads, knits, sews, bakes, and spins. She is an occasional performance poet.
Stephanie is the author of The Lost for Words Bookshop, The Secrets We Keep, and Letters to My Husband.
Do you enjoy issue-centered reads?
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