I’m delighted to welcome you today to my stop on the blog tour for the moving and thought provoking When Things Are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent. Thank you to Tracy Fenton and Ultimo Press for giving me the opportunity to read and review this simply mesmerising and unforgettable book.
About the book:
Set between Hong Kong, London and China in the year 2000, When Things are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent tells the story of two sisters, the grief that shapes them as children and the lengths to which they will go to save each other as adults.
Of her debut novel, Hannah says ‘My inspiration is my sister Camilla who is living with Down syndrome. Our relationship has taught me so much about love, life and grief. I do hope that some of the gifts that Camilla has given me may now be passed onto you through this story.’
Harper, born with a congenital heart disorder and living with what she calls the Up syndrome, is happily living in Hong Kong and in a relationship. On the other side of the world, Marlowe is studying a rare species of butterfly when she is called home with devastating news — Harper’s heart is failing and she has been denied a necessary transplant because she is living with a disability.
So begins a journey for the two sisters, both fiercely determined to protect the other no matter the sacrifice.
When Things are Alive They Hum poses profound questions about the nature of love and existence, the ways grief changes us, and how we confront the hand fate has dealt us. Intensely moving, exquisitely written and literally humming with wonder, it is a novel that celebrates life in all its guises, and what comes after.
About the author:
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hannah Bent completed her Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art and Film from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in London. She undertook further study in both directing and screenwriting at the Australian Film and Television and Radio School and has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney. She was the 2013 recipient of the Ray Koppe Young Writers Award for her novel as a work in progress.
Instagram: @hannahbent_author Website: http://www.hannahbent.com
As I sit here trying to find the words to write this review, I can hear my daughter laughing in the next room, the sound infectious as I reflect on the heartachingly beautiful story I have just finished. And I feel my own heart hum, grateful for every single day of the almost 31 years I’ve been lucky enough to have her in my life so far.
I can honestly say that I felt every possible emotion whilst reading this book: happiness, sadness, anger, frustration and everything in between. The unfairness of Harper’s situation touched me deep within my soul, some of my own thoughts and feelings as the mother of someone with a disability coming to the forefront and making me weep at the injustice of it all.
Brought up in Hong Kong, Marlowe Eve is the daughter of an English father and Chinese mother. Now in London studying the life cycles of butterflies and moths, Marlowe is happily settled with boyfriend Ollie. But then she receives a call from her father James that changes everything. Her younger sister Harper is seriously ill and needs a heart transplant. But doctors in Hong Kong are refusing to operate because she has Down Syndrome and is not deemed to be a suitable candidate for surgery.
Rushing home to be by Harper’s side, Marlowe is greeted by a sister much changed by her illness. Shocked at the change in Harper since she last saw her, Marlowe sets out to do everything within her power to make sure Harper gets the heart and lung transplant she needs. But with her desire to save Harper whatever the cost taking her down a very dark path, does Marlowe still have her sister’s best interests at heart? Or is the fear of losing her sister making her deaf to the wants and needs of Harper herself?
Told from the alternating points of view of both Marlowe and Harper, we revisit snapshots of the past as well as following along with what’s going on in their lives as they happen. The emotional turmoil of being a sibling of someone with a disability, as well as coping with the loss of her mother at a young age, is palpable as we begin to understand what motivates Marlowe to act as she does.
I could feel the anger growing inside me at how Harper’s life wasn’t deemed important enough to save, at the blatant discrimination she and her family faced, whilst at the same time feeling sad and frustrated that Harper wasn’t being allowed a voice in her own life.
I adored Harper and, although I disagreed with the way she went about it, understood Marlowe and the desperation she felt to hold on to her sister at any cost. Raw, visceral and heartachingly beautiful, When Things Are Alive They Hum is an emotionally charged, thought provoking read that will stay with me.
Hannah Bent has written a deeply personal and empathetic book that touches on themes of disability, grief, loss, love and how far we are willing to go to hold on to those we love. I have to admit I found it a difficult read at times, my own feelings as the parent of a young adult with a disability sometimes taking over and making my heart hurt.
When Things Are Alive They Hum brought to mind my own fears of what would happen if my own daughter became gravely ill, something that I found to be a constant worry during the pandemic. Would she be offered the same choices as those without any health issues or would her life be deemed less important than others? So many thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head and heart as I became deeply enmeshed in Harper and Marlowe’s story.
When Things Are Alive They Hum is an astonishing debut that completely broke my heart. Harper became like a real person to me, her thoughts and feelings laid bare for all to see as she came to terms with her illness and exactly what that would mean. She showed an understanding beyond her years, her voice ringing out loud and clear, proving once and for all that having a disability did not mean she was somehow diminished but instead made her even more alive, with the hum of her heart singing to all those who loved her.
I honestly don’t have any more words left to write other than to say that we could all benefit from having a little bit of Harper in our lives.
An exquisitely written and simply unforgettable debut that I would highly recommend.
When Things Are Alive They Hum is available to buy now: