"The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae" Book Discussion and Recipe

Updated on November 26, 2019
Amanda Leitch profile image

I wish to inspire readers, teachers, and book clubs to bake along with their reading and promote discussion about the books we've enjoyed.

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Ailsa Rae is an Irish blogger in her twenties with a fatal heart condition. If she doesn't receive a transplant soon, the self-named Blue Heart blogger won't live to see her next birthday. She's been chronicling her journey to educate those who don't know about left heart syndrome, and so that those with it don't have to exhaust themselves trying to explain their condition to well-meaning family and friends.

Then, a miracle happens while Ailsa is staying at the hospital, losing hope. They have a heart for her! And with her new heart, Ailsa is overwhelmed by choices. What should she do with her new freedom? She polls her bloggers. Take up dancing the tango! This inadvertently leads to a part in a play of Romeo and Juliet for a summer festival.

And while doing a challenging radio interview for her blog, Ailsa meets a rising star actor who had to temporarily step away from his career due to needing a cornea transplant. He's undoubtedly handsome and seems mutually interested, but she fears whether or not he's the playboy the tabloids proclaim. To complicate matters more, Ailsa is still mourning a bit for her first love, Lennox, whom she lost due to his not receiving a transplant in time.

Funny, intelligent, and very human in the rises and falls of emotions, difficulties, and triumphs, The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae will make you laugh out loud, shed tears for your lost loved ones, and stir you to question why more people don’t donate their organs so that others might live.

Perfect for fans of

  • Ireland
  • Romantic comedies
  • Romantic dramas
  • Contemporary/young adult fiction
  • Stories about dealing with death, loss, dying

Discussion Questions

  1. Why was her blog called "my blue blue heart?" Was she literally blue?

  2. Why did Ailsa like polling her followers? What things did she opt for doing once she was well? What was chosen?

  3. How was impulsivity a new freedom for Ailsa? How different would your life be if you had to weigh the amount of energy (and recovery) each task you scheduled would expend?

  4. Making friends starts with a name. What did Ailsa name her new heart? If you had to name yours, what would you choose and why?

  5. Ailsa said: “I’m alive, thanks to a freak set of circumstances, which includes someone else’s misfortune. And I think of that every day.” How did this lead her to be grateful? But then how could she still feel sad sometimes? Use this quote to help you explain: “Remember, son, just because you’ve got what you want doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time.” Is there a difference between gratefulness and happiness?

  6. What does this mean: “Being ill is a pain. Being ill and explaining yourself is exhausting”?

  7. Why was Ailsa such an advocate for people being on the donor transplant list? If you aren’t and want to be, in America, go to organdonor.gov/register.html.

  8. Why is it important to have that conversation about organ donation with your loved ones, especially with those who would have the power to make those decisions for you? What makes some people not want to donate, or to not allow their loved one to do so? Should next of kin be allowed to overrule a dead person’s choice?

  9. Why doesn’t Ailsa think “think grief is a good place to make decisions from”?

  10. How did Ailsa’s interviewer want “simple answers to things that are complicated”? Do you think her questions were baited, or that the interviewer, like some of those who wrote about Seb, “write the article before they meet”?

  11. Why did Seb tell Ailsa “If people are arses...or in any way abusive, block them straight away. Don’t engage.” Was this good advice if you’re in the public eye?

  12. Ailsa, and even Lennox’s parents, struggled with and made choices about “Birthdays of the people we’ve lost, or anniversaries of their death, are things I don’t know what to do with. You can’t ignore them, because it feels wrong, but every day is an anniversary of their loss.” What are some good ways to celebrate or commemorate the memory of a loved one every year? Should you have to do something every year, or is it ok to not do something sometimes too?

  13. Now that she wasn’t dying, how did Ailsa have to find her own identity? How did dying consume her entire identity and schedule before?

  14. How did Seb teach Ailsa to “not mind” what others said or thought about her? Why was that a survival technique once your life moved into the spotlight? What events made it more challenging for Ailsa to ignore the comments of others, especially in the papers, despite how hard she’d worked to lose weight?

  15. What was Seb’s transplant and how did he end up needing one? How was he, and how are we all guilty of taking our bodies for granted sometimes?

  16. What do you think of Ailsa’s statement that “It’s not bravery that means spending months in hospital...and submitting to blood tests, via-the-nose biopsies, CPR and God knows what else. It’s the absence of choice” ? Is there another choice?

  17. What happened with Ailsa’s father when she was a baby, the full, true story her mother hadn’t told? What did Tamsin and Hayley do with his stuff after and why?

  18. How was dancing tango “sort of a rest” for Ailsa’s brain because of the concentration it required? Why is it good to have mindless tasks like this, especially for people with anxious minds or mentally draining jobs?

  19. Why was there conflict with Seb after the second article? Do you think he handled it well? How were they resolved?

  20. Hayley and Ailsa had had a very codependent relationship when Ailsa was young. How did that change after the surgery? Why did Ailsa want it to? Why did Hayley have a difficult time with it?

The Recipe: Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Milkshake Frosting

Ailsa and her mother used to go to the same cafe on Rose Street for strawberry milkshakes after hospital checkups.

When Hayley and Ailsa’s father met, it was because of the smell of chocolate and vanilla cakes that wafted up from her apartment to his and in the hospital, a common gift Ailsa received was chocolate bars.

To combine these, I made a recipe for a rich chocolate cupcake with creamy strawberry frosting that will remind you of a strawberry milkshake.

Source

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) hot, strong coffee

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup freeze-dried strawberries
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp strawberry baking emulsion
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Strawberry baking emulsion needed to make the frosting

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, use the paddle attachment to combine the granulated sugar and oil for one minute. While those are mixing, in another smaller bowl stir together flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. To the oil/sugar mixture, add the sour cream and vanilla extract, and mix for one minute. When those are combined, drop the speed of the mixer to the lowest speed and add one half of the flour mixture. Allow to combine, then add the rest of the flour mixture and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until the yolks disappear. It should look dark and thick. Stop the mixer and pour in all of the hot coffee, very slowly. Scrape down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Turn the mixer back on to medium-low speed, and mix for about 2-3 minutes, until the batter is suddenly glossy with few lumps, and the coffee/cocoa smell is strong.
  2. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. Fill each cupcake liner about two-thirds full with batter. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick in the center comes out dry or with crumbs, not raw batter. Allow the individual cupcakes to cool completely (minimum of ten minutes, preferably fifteen) on a wire rack or cutting board before frosting them.
  3. For the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip one stick of softened butter on medium-high speed for one minute. Then drop the speed to low and add one cup of powdered sugar, followed by half of the milk or cream, and the vanilla extract and strawberry flavoring/baking emulsion. Mix for one minute, then add the rest of the powdered sugar. Mix on low for one minute, then increased the speed to medium and add the strawberries. Mix for one minute on medium-high and let the paddle or whisk whip the strawberries throughout the frost. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes. I used an XL round tip. Makes about 12-14 cupcakes.
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Similar Books

Other books by this author are The Lost for Words Bookshop, The Secrets We Keep, The Woman in the Photograph, The Other Half of My Heart, and Letters to My Husband.

Five Feet Apart is also about two young people in love with a physical disorder that keeps them confined to a life in the hospital, where they must stay 6 feet apart or risk contaminating and even killing each other.

Scars Like Wings is about a teenager with burn scars across her body, who must learn to live life again and socialize, despite looking abnormal, and losing her love for singing.

The Fault in Our Stars is about two teenagers who meet in a cancer support group and fall in love, and the girl uses her wish to go on a crazy adventure to meet her favorite author in Denmark.

Notable Quotes

  • "You don’t get to choose these things. You get to accept them."
  • “I wonder whether this new heart is having to learn me like I’m having to learn it.”
  • “I’m alive, thanks to a freak set of circumstances, which includes someone else’s misfortune. And I think of that every day.”
  • “Being ill is a pain. Being ill and explaining yourself is exhausting.”
  • “...the person who helped me with the blog in the early days died less than a year ago waiting for a transplant...If more people were on the organ donor register, if more people made their wishes known to their loved ones before they died, he might be alive.”
  • “”Please, when you die, when someone you love dies, help to let someone else live.”
  • “Remember, son, just because you’ve got what you want doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time.”
  • “I have to, sort of, measure everything and decide whether it’s worth doing or not.”
  • “Does effort plus impact equal value?”
  • “I don’t think grief is a good place to make decisions from.”
  • “If people are arses...or in any way abusive, block them straight away. Don’t engage.”
  • “...although people think they know you, they don’t, really. They know the you that they’ve imagined.”
  • “Birthdays of the people we’ve lost, or anniversaries of their death, are things I don’t know what to do with. You can’t ignore them, because it feels wrong, but every day is an anniversary of their loss.”
  • “Transplant is always a palliative treatment, a patch over a broken thing.”
  • “Ailsa thinks that Apple must be new to tango too, because they’re learning at the same rate, tiring at the same time.”
  • “...the tango...is a dance that connects partners both at body and at heart, and asks them to be absorbed in each other to the absence of everything else.”
  • “Every time I see you I feel as though we could have talked for another three hours. You’re easy to be with.”
  • “...she was spending her breath the way she’d spend money that she knew was going to run out before she’d bought everything she needed.”
  • “You’re both thinking with your hearts and that’s not what hearts are for.”
  • “It’s not bravery that means spending months in hospital...and submitting to blood tests, via-the-nose biopsies, CPR and God knows what else. It’s the absence of choice.”
  • “She knows that she is more than the outside of her body, and that fitness is more than appearance.”
  • “He’s completely in command of his body, in a way that ilsa will never be in charge of hers.”
  • “...they are bound now by more than the understanding of the oddness of having a bit of a dead person’s body stitched into your own.”
  • “When you’re in hospital you meet all sorts and it makes you realize how lucky you are to be educated.”
  • “I don’t want to be whatever the Sun thinks is an acceptable shape for a woman, because if I was, there would be nowhere to keep my organs.”
  • “...if you haven't spent a lot of time around hopeful transplantees you develop a sense of humour that might look macabre to The Normals.”
  • “When life was short, it was too short to care about people who couldn’t be bothered.”
  • “I felt drenched with love for you. You were the loveliest thing I had ever seen in my whole life. The best.”
  • “Right this minute, we’re fine, and that will have to do.”

© 2019 Amanda Leitch

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