Thursday, February 26, 2009

a review of "Irreplaceable"

Irreplaceable by Stephen Lovely (Hyperion, IBSN978-1-4013-2282-3)

Once, organ transplants were very rare and extraordinary. But now, although not enough to fill the need, there are more organ donors than there once were, and while still not common, transplants are not the rarity they once were. In fact, it is possible that some of us know someone who has received a transplant. Or perhaps someone who became a donor. Maybe that makes us forget just how remarkable transplants, especially heart transplant really are. Organ transplants are quite different than other medical procedures, in that, except for the cases of live transplants, possible for some organs, when someone receives a transplant and a new chance for life, it happens because someone else has died. What is the cause of celebration for one family, is as the result of a terrible tragedy for another. When someone receives a transplant, it is not the happy ending of the story, but just the beginning for all those involved.

In Irreplaceable, we are presented with a view into both sides of the experience, those who have lost someone they loved, and those who were saved from losing the one they love, someone on the verge of death. Actually, we get a glimpse of a third part of the equation as well, the man who caused the death and set it all in motion.

The book opens with Isabel, out on the open road in rural Iowa, on her bicycle for the first ride after a long winter. The weather is starting to turn for the worse, getting windy, the sky getting gray, a ominous storm rolling in. A truck crests the hill; she, a little too far into the lane, is unseen by the driver...and for those that love her, a nightmare has begun. For others, a life has been saved from certain death.

Isabel's husband, Alex, was with her when she signed the organ donor card, and as she lays in the hospital, brain dead, hooked up to the machines keeping her heart pumping and the organs viable, as angry and upset as he is, he knows that he must follow her wishes. After her organs are taken and transplanted, one recipient, the woman who received her heart, is able to contact him and his mother-in-law, but he wants nothing to do with her. His wife is gone..or is she really, totally gone? Because parts of her live on.
“He feels bitter and aggrieved and spiteful. He feels entitled to feel bitter and aggrieved and spiteful. This bitterness, this spite -is this the evidence? Of Isabel's presence? Is this the proof?”
Isabel's mother, Beatrice, looks at her only daughter, lying there “like some beautiful slaughtered animal” and is broken hearted, but not filled with anger like Alex.
“She always used to suspect that the price for happiness, the price for enjoying the company of a person you loved, was the steadily increasing risk of losing them...Beatrice didn't think she could stand it, didn't think she could go on living in a universe whose laws forced her to submit to such a terrible fear. Now she sees what a small price it is to pay, what staggering joy she received in return. You should be willing to pay that price for as little as a few days or hours with a person you love, she thinks, rubbing her fingertips across a patch of linoleum the years have worn down to a cloudy smear.”
Then we have Janet, the woman who received the heart, her husband David and their two young children. Janet is an art teacher in an inner city Chicago school, her heart ravaged by a virus. Over the last couple of years, she has become weaker and weaker, unable to work, unable to care for her family, finally confined to the hospital for months, surrounded by those like her, who are waiting for someone to die so that they might live. She is one of the lucky one who receives the gift, but is is a gift with a price. The medications, with their side effects, the special diet, her immune system suppressed, the knowledge that her body may reject the heart, and even if it does not, her expected life span is only 5 to 10 years, when the vessels of the new heart with block up. But she is very thankful for her relatively good, newfound health and whatever additional time the heart will give her.
David, her husband, is not so sure...
“The way Janet looks at it, she's been given a reprieve. While David understands this, and feels happy for her, he's filled with dread at the prospect of having to live through the past three years, the worse years of his life, all over again when she declines.”
And finallt there is Jasper, the driver of the truck that hit Isabel. Let's say that he has a rather unique view of his role in all this.

No, the transplant was in no way the end of the story.

This is Mr. Lovely's first book and it is a very good one. His ability to capture the emotions of these different characters is skillful. He is able, on the one hand, to educate the reader about the whole issue of organ transplantation, while on the other hand never losing sight of the very personal repercussions these decisions will have for all involved. As medical science becomes able to do more and more, we can never forget the human and emotional cost...because one day it may be someone we love, or ourselves, asked to pay that price.

Now you know I can't let Mr. Lovely off without at least one negative word. I wish I could...and I almost did, but then there was one blip in the plot, one scene near the end of the book that such stuck me as so false....aaagh...well, if I gave those stars or little lighthouses as a rating I would have grabbed one back and stepped on it. Maybe ground it into the dirt. But one false note in an otherwise very good book is not bad.
My only other issue is with the cover. Now my copy is an advanced review copy, and from what I can see, they changed it for the published version. But I can't say which one I like less.
It just screams chick-lit, or sappy love story, which totally misrepresents the book. If I saw it on a table in a bookstore, I would most likely not pick it up, not being a great fan of the chick lit. Which would be a terrible shame, because I think this book is bigger than that and should attract a wider audience. Yes, I know hearts are pink and red, but I think a stronger cover would have really better expressed the strength and excellent emotion of this book. But they don't let me decide these things...

So just ignore the cover and pick up this book and I think you will be happy you did.

For another review, check out...
Pudgy Penguin Perusals
As They Grow Up
Reading With Monie
Just a Mom's Take On Things

Available From Amazon


  1. I got a copy of this too so I was happy to read your review and see that you recommend it.

  2. I really enjoyed this book although my review is no where near as eloquent as yours is. The book has a very good plot and is well written for a debut novel.I also would highly recommend this book.

    Sometimes, the author has no say on the cover. You are right, it does smack of chick lit.

    What do you think would have been a better cover?

  3. Kaye, a better cover?....anything less just looks silly and this certainly is not a silly book.

    Lenore, I think you will enjoy it..

  4. This is in my pile too. The title and the cover make it sound/look like a love story.

  5. You have done this book justice. That is a very well-written review!

  6. I agree that this cover screams chick lit. I'm glad to see it's so much more. I will have to check it out.

  7. Sounds like a good book, thanks for the review. I'll have to put it on my list.

  8. It's funny, if you look at the Amazon reviews, which I did after I wrote this, you will see one from a friend of Lovely who says "don't let the cover turn you away!" yes...I guess others have noticed.

    I hope the author had nothing to do with it, but I do thing it will hurt the book getting as wide an audience as it might otherwise.

    Kathy, yes, it is a love story...but not a chick-lit love story. It's about love and family and illness and death and children...

  9. how LOVELY, hahahahahhaa, im the funniest puppy i know.


  11. yes Bandit...Lovely.
    And tell your mom to relax. It will be right here.

  12. This sounds very interesting (though I agree with you on the cover ... I would have passed this right on by). I'm interested because when my aunt died, she was an organ donor. My uncle really struggled with this, and had a very hard time when some of the people who received some of her organs contacted him to thank him and tell them about themselves. He was very conflicted about how he felt about this -- especially since the letters were received like a year after my aunt had died and it kind of brought up the grieving again. And you do have me interested to find out what else happens. So, despite the little problem at the end, I think I would want to read this book! Good review!

  13. I really thing that you find this book very interesting then!

  14. Sounds like an amazing book! I actually like the cover, but maybe my opinion would change after finishing the book. I'll keep an eye out for this one!

  15. it is rather pretty...and very limiting I think.

  16. I found your site on the Blog Carnival hosted by Bookish Ruth. It is absolutely beautiful and your reviews are great. I am new to blogging and I am amazed at all the wonderful blogs out there! I will be back to visit.

  17. why thank you. you will soon learn that all we bloggers love a wee bit of praise from time to time.

    Be sure to come on back!


please speak up, I LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!!