When Truth Beats Fiction, a guest post by Alex Perry
My first draft of Pighearted was nothing like the novel that came out Tuesday. It was set fifty years in Houston’s future. I wrote a book about a pig genetically altered to be an organ donor. How could I set it in the present day? As I revised, got good advice, and researched deeper, I realized that my story could happen today. The high-tech gadgets I invented in my first draft were not nearly as interesting as the actual medical devices keeping patients alive. I grounded the novel and it became contemporary, but it was still speculative. After all, that kind of transplantation was still theoretical. No one had actually tried it. That is, until debut week. Five people contacted me with a link to the same news article. Pighearted came true. The real world scooped my book.
Pighearted is the story of a boy with a fatal heart condition and his best friend, the pig with the heart that could save his life. It centers a boy getting a life-saving heart transplant from a genetically-modified sentient pig. The pig was grown using the boy’s DNA to ensure that it had a human heart. As the boy and pig grow close, the boy realizes that his friend doesn’t just have a human heart, but also a human mind.
Pighearted speculated about the distant possibility of using pigs to grow organs, but last week a pig donated a genetically modified kidney to a woman. Her body accepted it in what might be a huge step forward in medicine. The lead investigator on the medical team Dr. Robert Montgomery is himself a heart transplant recipient trying to ensure others get the help he got. He says that 40% of people waiting on the transplant list die before they get an organ they need. There’s an urgent need to improve organ transplantation.
Transplanted hearts don’t last as long as they need to. Especially for kids. Childhood transplant recipients often need a second transplant later in life. Not to mention, there is a constant threat of rejection and the side effects of the life-saving anti-rejection medication. And that’s for the most fortunate people that were able to survive the list.
The solution the scientists in Pighearted try is probably too ethically fraught to ever become a viable treatment. Creating an animal that is part human blurs the line between what is a person and what isn’t. Then, killing something that is part human escalates the dilemma, but it seems like Dr. Montgomery and that medical team found a different solution.
The kids that read Pighearted are going to take those next steps and make the next advances. They might be inspired by Dr. Montgomery’s story, or they might connect to fictional characters that could push them to make the next breakthrough. Science education doesn’t need to stop at the science teacher’s door. In high school and college, I loved taking interdisciplinary classes. The strict delineation of school subjects didn’t make sense to me. It was easier for me to get excited about a topic that connected to other subjects and felt relevant. That’s the basic premise behind the pedagogy of interdisciplinary learning. Ideally it would allow students to study a topic from multiple angles. For example, Pighearted could fit into a science class as easily as it could fit into an English class.
I’m glad I rewrote Pighearted and set it in the present day. Years of teaching taught me to never underestimate what students are capable of, and I had to learn the same lesson again as an author. I’d underestimated the entire scientific community. The world is advancing and changing faster that I can make sense of it, so I hope that my book and others like it can reach deep into this changing world and help make sense of it. I needed to write a book that reached across the campus and touched on subjects in other classes. I thought I was setting the story just barely beyond our current technology to hook my readers with cutting-edge science. I didn’t expect for science to surpass my book before it came out, but I’ve never been happier to be wrong.
Meet the author
Alex Perry used to teach sixth grade in Houston, but now she writes books for kids everywhere. Pighearted is her debut novel. She lives in Arkansas with her husband, daughter, and two huge dogs. You can visit her at alexperrybooks.com or follow her on twitter @alextheadequate.
Charlotte’s Web meets My Sister’s Keeper in this charming story told from the alternating perspectives of a boy with a fatal heart condition and the pig with the heart that could save his life.
Jeremiah’s heart skips a beat before his first soccer game, but it’s not nerves. It’s the first sign of a heart attack. He knows he needs to go to the hospital, but he’s determined to score a goal. Charging after the ball, he refuses to stop…even if his heart does.
J6 is a pig and the only one of his five brothers who survived the research lab. Though he’s never left his cell, he thinks of himself as a therapy pig, a scholar, and a bodyguard. But when the lab sends him to live with Jeremiah’s family, there’s one new title he’s desperate to have: brother.
At first, Jeremiah thinks his parents took in J6 to cheer him up. But before long, he begins to suspect there’s more to his new curly-tailed companion than meets the eye. When the truth is revealed, Jeremiah and J6 must protect each other at all costs—even if their lives depend on it.
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 10/26/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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