Inchworm by Ann Kelley

Last autumn I met Gussie, a 12 year-old girl with a congenital heart defect, whose life is constricted, because she is quickly short of breath, and who can’t go to school for fear of picking up an everyday illness that would compromise her heart.

That might sound depressing, but it isn’t, because Gussie is so curious and so bright, because she finds so much to love in life. Family. Books. Birds. Films. Friends. Cats. Nature. Her head and her heart were full, and the knowledge that her life would be short made it all the more precious.

Through The Burying Beetle and The Bower Bird I followed Gussie as she and her newly divorced mother settled in St Ives, formed new relationships, and lived their lives.

Two books full of lovely details and observations; wonderful celebrations of life, seen through the eyes of a child who understands just how precious those things are.

At the end of The Bower Bird it seemed that a match had been found, that Gussie would have the heart and lung transplant that she and her mother had hoped for.

That makes Inchworm, the third installment of Gussie’s story, a very different proposition.

The story opens after Gussie’s surgery, as she is slowly regaining consciousness. This emergence is beautifully captured. As is the cacophony of thoughts and emotions in her head: from concern that she might acquire new characteristics with her new organs to the joy of looking in the mirror and being pink instead of blue.

It was wonderful to watch Gussie’s progress.

Her friendship with another transplant patient from Zimbabwe was beautifully observed, and his very different life and experiences brought a new dimension to the book.

And I saw Gussie’s  mother’s experiences through her eyes. I saw how much life had thrown at her, and I worried that she was neglecting her own health as she focused on her daughter’s treatment and recovery. I wanted a happy ending for her as much as I did for her daughter.

There was much here, for both head and heart, and yet Inchworm began to lose me when Gussie left hospital.

Because Cornwall is so far from London and because Gussie had to go back to hospital for regular cheques, she and her mother stayed in a London flat. And because of the high risk of infection Gussie’s life was terribly constrained.

Gussie missed Cornwall, and I missed watching her in Cornwall and her reactions to the world around her. The writing was still lovely, Gussie was still engaging, there was still much to enjoy, but, for me, a vital ingredient had been lost.

For the first time I thought that I was reading a book about a 12 year-old that was maybe better suited to readers closer to Gussie’s own age.

At the end of the book, with her health improving, Gussie and her mother were able to return to Cornwall.

I realised then that it was time for me to let Gussie go, to wish her well, to let her simply live her life in St Ives …

But I have loved following her story over the course of three books, and I am so, so glad that I met her.

3 responses

  1. I loved ‘The Burying Beetle’ but didn’t realise that the story had been taken further. Thank you so much for cueing me in. I have to go and get the sequels NOW.

  2. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: May 28, 2011 | Semicolon

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