Sunday, February 6, 2022

My heart; it's February

It's bitter cold out these days with lots of snow and ice. Normal for Iowa, not so for the Southern states getting crushed with winter storms. I'm sure there was mad rush for winter coats and snow shovels. Cold weather is the perfect time to read and I just finished The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake. This book has been gathering dust on my school library shelf for about a year. I ordered it after reading very good reviews and I had a personal and professional goal to continue to round out our library shelves with diverse titles. It's maddening to think this sweet story could make someone else angry and ask for it to be removed from the library. What a terrible place we are in as we build out shelves specifically for all students only to hear that we could be punished for those choices.

Sunny St. James is a 12-year-old young girl who has heart problems both physically and emotionally. She receives a new heart to replace her old damaged one all while she is trying to figure out who she wants to kiss.  What she really wants is to be a "normal" tween who can run and play on the beach and kissing another person is part of that. She focuses her attention on boys because that's what is "normal" but in her heart she is curious about kissing girls. She and Kate live in a small beach community where everyone knows her and she's lead a physically restrictive life while waiting for this new heart. 

Her best friend Margot used to help her through all this but she branched out and made new friends from her swim team (an activity Sunny couldn't participate in) and Sunny feels abandoned. One of her goals after surgery is to meet a new best friend and one day on the beach she meets Quinn someone brand new to the island who doesn't know Sunny's history. Her real mother Lena abandoned her as well when Sunny was four and Lena's best friend Kate has been raising Sunny. After surgery Lena decides to reappear in Sunny's life creating more confusion for both Kate and Sunny.

There is so much emotion, both sad and joyful in the story and I wish I'd had this book while I was in elementary school because many of Sunny's questions and feelings about her surgery and recovery are emotions I've been through myself. I was 11 years old when it was discovered that my mitral valve was damaged due to an undetected case of rheumatic fever as a child. I underwent valve replacement surgery at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. I received a porcine valve and four years later after experiencing symptoms of heart failure, the valve was replaced again with a St. Jude's plastic valve. I was lucky to be in the same hospital and to have the same surgeon (Dr. Kaiser). 

Through the process I often felt angry that I didn't feel good, that I couldn't participate in activities, that I had this scar running down my chest, that I had medicine to take which made me feel old. I adjusted over time and feel blessed that my parents saw my symptoms and knew I needed medical help. Sunny St. James spoke to me in a way that made me feel understood even at my age. She might also speak to a young girl who is experiencing the same confused feeling about who she wants to kiss. Imagine that young person hugging this book in their arms and understanding that they have allies. Making a connection through literature can easily help a young (or old) person feel in balance about their unique thoughts and feelings.  The "I'm not alone..." idea. 

If you can imagine this book on a banned book list you can see how banning books sucks out all of our humanity. To counteract that feeling you should request this book from your public library or order it, read it, pass it's a story worth sharing!

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