Living in this house has been a bookworms delight as there are many bookshelves filled with books. Some are old friends while others are begging to be picked up and read. So much choice. My aunt made it easy and pointed out a new series she had recently read. She loves children’s books as much as me, and discovered the first while in Cambodia. She had enjoyed it so much that she “simply had to read the others”.
This series of books by Ann Kelley are about Gussie who has just turned twelve. The Burying Beetle opens with her having moved with her Mum from London to an isolated cottage on the Cornwall coast. Gussie is living on borrowed time and is on the waiting list for a heart and lung transplant as she has a rare disease. The four books trace her journey from waiting, surgery and getting a new heart and lungs to recovery when she can run and play cricket. What a change for her, as she had been blue and struggled to climb a flight of stairs.
It is hard not to like Gussie – an astute observer of life who thinks deeply about things – what is it like to face dying at such a young age? what is it like to receive a new heart and lungs knowing that someone has died so that she might have a second chance at living?
She loves birds and cats and insects and describes them beautifully. Being in England I am unfamiliar with the tiny birds who live in the gardens here – Gussie introduced me to many birds including blackbirds and the robin. I learnt about badgers and bees, beetles and inchworms. Gussie reads widely and intelligently and she reminded me of books I had read at her age such as Paul Gallico’s Jenny and Tomasina.
Gussie rarely feels sorry for herself and I was struck by her optimism and ability to live each day to the fullest – even with limited capacity. As if dealing with her health is not enough, her parent’s marriage has ended and a year earlier her grandparents both died suddenly while she was in hospital. She grieves for them openly and we get an insight into the beautiful relationship she had with them. Coping with loss is a theme through all these books.
A tough editor might have pruned these books down to one long or two books, but I enjoyed reading them. I felt as if I lived through this intense time with Gussie and gained many insights into her world. I was quite happy to stay with her and was in no hurry to say good bye.
Interestingly, the author, Ann Kelley had a son who had this rare disease who died at the age of 22. If you have a reader in your family, who loves animals, birds and insects and is quite content to read a slow moving story, this will be a hit. But be warned that deep issues of life and death are not swept under the carpet. The other titles: The Bower Bird, Inchworm and A Snail’s Broken Shell