The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland

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The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Using lots of different narrative styles, this is an ultimately uplifting story about a young woman learning to live post heart transplant.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: April 2018
Publisher: Zaffre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781785764400

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Ailsa Rae has been sick her whole life, and just as she was edging closer to death she finally, finally got the call that she needed, that a heart was available for her to have a transplant. Previously she had felt so helpless that she had used her blog to make decisions for her, running polls amongst her readers to decide on her actions. But with her new heart, she has been given a new life. Can Ailsa manage to start to live on her own, and will her mother let her do that?

I'll start with my very favourite thing about the story, which is what it says about organ transplants, and how important it is for people to be on the donor register. One of my very best school friends had to have a liver transplant when we were twenty, so I've seen the remarkable change it can make to someone's quality of life, giving them back a future at a point where even a few weeks more seem unlikely. The complexity of then living thanks to someone else who died and gifted part of their body to you is dealt with sensitively, and everything about the medical side of things, and the emotions that come with that, felt very realistic and believable.

I liked Ailsa as a character, and though she was sometimes frustrating in her actions, it was just down to how she had lived her whole life, and the massive changes she was now facing. I thought it was a really interesting concept, to look at how even though Ailsa had been given the best gift ever, a future, how problematic that could actually be and the huge emotional and practical changes in her life it would entail. Ailsa's mother is also a great character, and it's interesting to see a little of her difficulties in dealing with Ailsa's demands for more independence now she finally doesn't need her mum every moment of every day.

The story is told using a variety of different narrative methods, with everything from blog posts and emails to news reports and letters. I think some readers might find this a little jarring. I enjoyed it, as I liked the different viewpoints that allowed, and how it furthered the plot in different ways. I did, however, struggle a little with the time jumps. The book sometimes moves back in time and since I'm a little bit of a careless reader there were some chapters were I would have no idea what on earth was going on before realising that we'd gone back in time for a moment! I'm sure if you're a more patient and sensible reader this will be fine, but for speedy book-eaters like me this is a heads up to pay attention to the dates!

I also had a small problem with the father in the book. I can't really say too much without spoiling things, but where other characters felt very well-drawn this one, for me, just didn't work so well. The city of Edinburgh, on the other hand, comes to life in the story and it made me really want to live there! I enjoyed the talk of tango (something Ailsa takes up post-transplant) and the development of the play for the Edinburgh festival is interesting too. There is an element of love story in the book, but it's nothing heavy-handed or overly sappy. What I liked most about the relationship side of things was the humour: the exchanges over email between Ailsa and Seb were really well done, definitely the best bits for me. Overall this is an enjoyable, easy to read, good story. I hope when you finish it the first thing you do is google the organ donation register.

Further reading suggestion: You might also enjoy The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan or this rather different heart transplant story Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult.

Buy The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland at

Buy The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland at


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