A few months ago, I read and reviewed Louise Jensen’s debut novel, The Sister. I was very impressed, and I eagerly anticipated the 16th of December, which saw the release of her second novel, The Gift.
In The Gift, the main character, Jenna, has recently had a heart transplant. She finds out that her donor was a young woman called Callie, and reaches out to her family to offer more personal thanks than the standard letter of gratitude she is advised to send by her doctors and therapist. However, as she learns more about Callie and her family, she starts to suspect that her death was not an accident. What’s more, her new heart seems to be bestowing aspects of Callie’s personality, and maybe even some of her memories onto Jenna.
Cellular memory from a new heart sounds like science fiction, but there is a surprising amount of research on the subject, which Jensen has clearly looked into at length to write this book. While she acknowledges she has taken some creative license to write the story, a lot of it is based on real accounts of the experiences of transplant recipients.
Regardless, the story is compelling. I usually take a week or more to get through a book, but this one was too much of a page turner to stop reading. Jenna’s struggle to come to terms with her gift is portrayed in a sensitive and poignant way. The mixture of guilt and gratitude from getting another chance at life, while someone had to die to give her that, is a driving force behind a lot of her actions.
The story is mainly told in first person present tense, which really drew me in and gave the events a sense of urgency. There are plenty of twists and turns as Jenna tries to slot back into some form of routine after her operation. At the same time, she is constantly battling with herself. Are her suspicions about Callie’s death paranoia from her anti rejection medication, or are real memories fighting to get out?
The other characters are written just as compellingly as Jenna is. Her ex boyfriend, who Jenna is trying to push away to spare him the hardship she perceives he would endure after her operation. Her parents, whose own marriage is under potentially unbearable strain. Her best friend, who worries about Jenna’s increasing fixation on her donor. And Callie’s family and fiancé, grieving her death.
I was left constantly guessing if there was a plot behind Callie’s death, and if so, who was responsible. Just like with The Sister, I did not see the ending coming, and it proved satisfying. For the overwhelming majority of the book, the story held together very well. My only criticisms are that there were one or two events that seemed a bit conveniently coincidental. Also, there were a few small typos (When the characters listened to music, Ed Sheeran became Ed Sheehan in a couple of places). However, this did not take much away from the novel. I think it deserves the 5 star reviews it’s getting, and it’s a really easy one for me to recommend.
Overall, The Gift is a gripping triumph, and an impressive follow up to Louise Jensen’s debut novel. I’m now back in the position of waiting for her to write her next book. Judging by the fact that both of her novels so far came out in 2016, I’m hoping I won’t have to wait too long for the next one.