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The Donor - Helen Fitzgerald.

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Helen Fitzgerald / ISBN: : 0571254373 / Publication Date: 2011 / Publisher: Faber and Faber

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      30.11.2011 12:17
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      A difficult subject approached in a light-hearted way,

      My sister gave this book to me and at first I was not sure if it was my type of book since I've read a lot of this type by other writers. I also found out it was actually one my 17-year-old niece had bought, so this seemed to be a young adult fiction. The storyline is short though so I thought I'd give it a try.

      The Plot.

      Will Marion is an unassuming sort of guy with twin daughters and a boring job selling time-shares for his parents. His wife, Cynthia, run out on him when the girls were babies and she's not been near them since. However, when one of the twin's Kay falls ill with Kidney failure it's going to take a kidney donor and although Will is ready for this he'd prefer to have his wife tested as well. Then Georgia also succumbs to the same thing and with both girls desperate for a life-saving donation, Will needs another kidney as soon as possible. To do this he needs to find his wife, but Cynthia is elusive and has her own problems with addiction to cope with. Is there any hope for the girls?

      Characters.

      At first I was inclined to agree with Will's daughter Georgia, aged 16 that he was a bit of a wimp. He's indecisive, pretty much just fell for Cynthia and got married without any real thought since Cynthia is as unlike him as possible. A rock chick in a band, already dabbling in drugs, she isn't the ideal wife for a young man with little experience of either women or life. All Will wanted to do was make films but even that was denied to him when he had to cope with two girls on his own. Of course I gave him Brownie points for being a good dad, but he says himself that he had problems making even minor decisions.

      Both girls have very different personalities and it comes across really well in the way they react both to their illness and the way they talk about their parents, mostly their dad. Kay is the happy child, the one who always kept smiling through everything and never complained. Good at school, she never made waves or was difficult for her father. Faced by a life-threatening illness she is coping far better than Georgia, making Will's dilemma even harder. For if Will can't find Cynthia then it might come down to a choice, who gets the kidney from him and who will have to hope there will be another donor to save their life?

      Georgia is completely different to her twin. She was born screaming and has made a fuss for the rest of her short life. She's determined to fall in love and have sex before she dies, but there's a shortage of available boys to a girl who is constantly hooked up to a machine. On the plus side she's creative like her dad, she's a loving sister and more like her father than anyone really notices. In fact it takes a stranger to point this out but that would be adding a spoiler.

      Cynthia does come into the story, both in Will's memories and as a character in the story later on. A selfish woman she is not very nice and it's hard to understand what Will first saw in her. Maybe it was the glamour of her singing on stage but her addiction to hard drugs and her on/off relationship with a character called Heath, a thug who is in and out of jail doesn't endear her to anyone else. Georgia wants to meet her mother not just because she might make a possible donor but also because she wants to know her better. Perhaps she isn't as bad as her dad makes out, maybe he drove her away? It's a classic question that any teenage girl whose emotions are running wild would think of, so why isn't her sister Kay doing the same?

      My Thoughts.

      First this isn't a book that dwells on the heart-breaking choices that must be made. If anything there is a lot of humor in the book, though a lot is on the dark side. There aren't scenes of hospital life or deathbed angst. The girls are still teenagers who want to smoke a little dope and drink some alcohol and in Georgia's case get laid.
      Will comes in for some hard times with a nymphomaniac neighbour determined to get him, and the way Georgia lashes out at him is saddening. Some parts border on the farcical and some are downright appalling while still managing to stay on the borders of pure sexism.

      Of course there is a sense of the imminence that both girls face and the race against time adds a poignant touch to the narrative. In one part Will is making a pro and con list as to which girl has the first choice of a transplant. It's in character for him to make lists but this is overboard in some ways. What isn't considered must surely be obvious to him and the reader, even if Cynthia is found, will she still make a suitable donor? The writer gets away with the co-incidence of both girls falling ill at the same time, with it's a one in a million genetic mismatch between the parents. I guess the idea of a heroin addict doesn't cross their minds at this time.

      On the whole it's a well-written story that's probably aimed at young adults and answers some of the questions about illness and dying in a different way. The author has written non-fiction about death and mourning but this book is all about choices and sometimes taking too much for granted. When the reader gets caught up in the story the pace and timbre of the story change, allowing the ending to surprise and generate a lot of sympathy for poor Will.

      I enjoyed the read and probably would have got more out of it if I hadn't guessed some of the ending. I think I've read too many of Jodi Piccoult's books to be surprised by anything and this is a light-hearted story for all its subject matter. I'm sure that it will appeal to the 14 to 18 age group in particular, but maybe a parent would wish to consider the nature of the bad language, references to sexual practices and drug-taking. For me it would get a three and a half, but bearing in mind the age group I'd say it would be a four for young adults.

      My book was free. Amazon sells it for around £4.55 new, but I'd buy it used.

      Thanks for reading as always.

      ©L.Fuller2011.

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