These posthumously published diary entries, given context through a doctor’s commentary, shed light on the struggle to be a regular young woman with dire heart problems.
Debut author and illustrator Bonner was born in Minneapolis in 1966 with congenital heart defects that just a decade earlier would have doomed an infant to a life of only a few weeks. But thanks to the work of scientists like Helen Taussig, who ran a Johns Hopkins heart clinic in the 1930s, and Aldo Castaneda, a pediatric heart surgeon at the University of Minnesota, new lifesaving procedures were then possible. By the time Bonner was a junior studying art at Carleton College, though, she was again facing heart failure and a fourth catheterization surgery. Debut author Cushman, a Carleton graduate and retired Minneapolis area obstetrician/gynecologist, competently sets the scene with background information about the Bonner family and developments in heart surgery and transplantation. The bulk of the moving book is then given over to Bonner’s diary entries from the last year of her life, December 1987 to December 1988. She comes across as a normal young woman, preoccupied with crushes and popular culture. She goes to movies and plays, attends birthday parties and therapy sessions, reads trendy books by Richard Bach and Milan Kundera, and admits her desperation to “get laid.” The stirring entries give a clear picture of the time period, as experienced by a woman in her early 20s. Reproductions of her sketches, posters, and self-portraits show her art progressing. But it was a life lived in the shadow of death. Pneumonia and extremely low energy made her feel “like a little old woman,” yet Bonner held out hope for a transplant, the top item on her poignant 1988 Christmas list. “I’m not afraid to die. But I just love my life so much,” she writes. Suddenly, after an earlier false alarm, a donor heart became available and Bonner prepared for surgery. But this is the last entry. As Cushman explains, there were complications during the transplant operation. Twenty-one-year-old Bonner’s organs failed, and she never regained consciousness.
A touching portrait of a short life lived in hope of a heart transplant.