Shivaun Plozza’s second book for young adults centres around seventeen going on eighteen-year-old Marlowe. After years of illness she had a heart transplant. She is over-protected by her vegan-warrior mother, and her younger brother Pip makes her laugh and smile with his interesting choices of costumes.
Her mother has just opened a shop, Blissfully Aware, next to the local butcher. Marlowe prefers to blend into the background, describing herself as ‘quiet, awkward, anxious, shy, introverted’, but is constantly made the centre of attention by her mother’s protests and her brothers outfits, wishing that they could ‘be weird in secret’.
The reader is given background into the feelings of an organ recipient, particularly for a young person having been given a heart – the mourning for the heart she lost, but also the need to know the history of the heart she has received, the person that went with it, to thank them, say sorry and to do justice to them, and also the loss of identity – being defined as ‘The Dying Girl’ and then ‘The Transplant Girl’.
Marlowe has missed two years of school through illness and surgery so has no friends when she returns to school – every teenager’s nightmare. Over time she bonds with Zan, a ‘gay Chinese-Australian’ who embraces her ‘freak’ status, and challenges the school bullies when they abuse Marlowe.
To try and find out who her new heart belongs to Marlowe sends letters through the hospital but when they ask not to be contacted she is devastated, and looks to other methods to find answers. She thinks she has enough clues to believe Carmen may be his sister, and she tracks her down and starts to stalk/befriend her.
In the meantime she starts a war with the apprentice butcher next to her mother’s store, who she believes stands for everything she and her family are against.
Marlowe’s mother is an amusing character, getting some of the best lines. She will start having one of her ‘Important Conversations about Important Issues and then vegan wine will be opened and the fair- trade chocolate aisle will be raided’, thinks ‘homework … is an act of rebellion … the best way to learn is to experience and that writing essays only encourages uniformity and complacency’ and that school is a ‘government institution where I’m indoctrinated into apathy and capitalism’.
The book shows that people can be trapped in many different ways, that things are not always as they seem and the grass it not always greener on the other side. It portrays young people feeling powerless, with no control and say in their lives, challenging this, while showing with empathy why adults might do this. The message that you shouldn’t make assumptions about people without knowing them, and that sometimes they have more in common than you realise is played out well.
Grief and loss are dealt with from different perspectives, demonstrating there is no one way to deal with tragedy, and that courage is within all of us, even if we have to take time to be brave.
This is a sweet novel that will appeal to younger teenagers and up, with many issues to provoke thought and discussion.