Another NetGalley read today. This book appears to have come out in September initially, but the edition I read says its release date is March (possibly this is the paperback?), so I’m on schedule, if that’s the case.
I actually enjoyed this a lot. More than I expected to, for some reason, although I’m not sure why my expectations were so low — possibly because I don’t read a huge amount of contemporary? Although this isn’t exactly straightforward contemporary. Modern medicine isn’t quite at the stage of brain transplants, although we’re getting closer every day, so I guess there’s a slightly speculative aspect to this.
Anyway, this is about a girl with a degenerative nerve disease whose brain is transplanted into the body of a coma patient. It explores some pretty big themes, as you can imagine: what are you prepared to do to stay alive? What makes you you, and can you still be yourself when you look completely different? How do you know if people like you for yourself or for the body you happen to be wearing?
And, of course, once you bring theology into the question it becomes more complicated. Is it ethical to perform an operation like this, and what happens to the souls of both patients?
In terms of the issues explored, it reminded me somewhat of Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman: both feature experimental transplant surgery, although Pig Heart Boy deals with media backlash, while She, Myself, and I focuses more on the personal and emotional aftermath.
You can imagine, then, that the book is quite heavy. But it’s actually not. It manages to keep the tone relatively light, and while I’m not exactly the best judge of books that talk about dying (look. I exist in a permanent state of terror about mortality and am very easily triggered into yet another existential crisis, I handle the thought of death very badly), I never felt like it went too dark.
I also really, really loved Rosa’s brother Elliot. He’s irreverent, sometimes inappropriate, and not afraid to say things like they are — but he’s also amazing. He cares so much. He manages to be unexpectedly philosophical. He knows how to make Rosa feel better when nobody else can. And he’s just super awesome. Like, I’m a sucker for great sibling relationships, and this one in particular got to me.
I have to admit, I didn’t really understand Rosa’s decision to go off on a road trip with Joe, an aspiring journalist she meets in the park outside the hospital. I get that she needs answers about the girl whose body she now has; anyone would. But running away from hospital just seems like a ridiculous idea when you’ve had major surgery, especially with someone you barely know. I mean, come on, if you’re going to go on a road trip, do it with your awesome brother!
(There was also romance with Joe, and I didn’t object to it as much as I thought I might, mostly because it did serve to underline the broader questions of identity and what it means to have someone else’s body, but it might have worked just as well without.)
I enjoyed the writing style, though I’m not sure there was particularly anything unusual about it. It just managed not to annoy me, and I’ve read too many books with an annoying writing style lately, so I guess I’m more easily pleased than sometimes.
I do want to address a particular issue, though. I saw a few reviews, after I’d finished the book, in which people suggested that its central premise was ableist: was Rosa’s life not worth living because she was paralysed? Isn’t it inherently problematic to suggest she needs a ‘healthy’ body to live her best life?
I have to admit: this didn’t occur to me while I was reading. And perhaps it should have done. But the main reason I didn’t think of it was because it was presented as a life or death scenario, rather than a quality of life issue. Her disease was literally killing her, as far as I understood it, and this was a last resort to avoid certain death that would otherwise occur before too long.
Obviously, I’m not paralysed, and I can’t speak for that representation on that front. I do feel bad that it didn’t occur to me consider these issues earlier. However, I didn’t read the book as ‘disabled person has to become abled to be happy’, which I agree would be terrible: I read it as ‘dying person does what’s necessary to Not Die’, which is an entirely different story.
So, that’s my take on that particular issue.
On the whole, though, I found it enjoyable, and compulsive, and a distraction from all the things I was supposed to be reading for uni. It was probably a 3.5* read, but I’m going to be nice and round up.