When Things are Alive They Hum – Hannah Bent


Marlowe and Harper share a bond deeper than most sisters, shaped by the loss of their mother in childhood. For Harper, living with what she calls the Up syndrome and gifted with an endless capacity for wonder, Marlowe and she are connected by an invisible thread, like the hum that connects all things. For Marlowe, they are bound by her fierce determination to keep Harper, born with a congenital heart disorder, alive.

Now 25, Marlowe is finally living her own life abroad, pursuing her studies of a rare species of butterfly secure in the knowledge Harper’s happiness is complete, having found love with boyfriend, Louis. But then she receives the devastating call that Harper’s heart is failing. She needs a heart transplant but is denied one by the medical establishment because she is living with a disability. Marlowe rushes to her childhood home in Hong Kong to be by Harper’s side and soon has to answer the question – what lengths would you go to save your sister?

My review

‘My hum… Will be in everything the wind the sea the sand the air in you.’

When Things are Alive they Hum is a moving story that touched my heart beyond belief.

Marlow and Harper are sisters. Their connection is beautiful and their love for one another is strong. Hannah Bent’s writing is superb. The story is told from the perspective of each sister and allows the reader to closely understand the characters’ thoughts, feelings, wants and needs. In reading Harper’s words, I gained an understanding of how this young girl with down syndrome (or as Harper states ‘up syndrome’) and a congenital heart disorder lives out her daily life. Harper is extraordinary. Her love for life, her family and her boyfriend, Louis, is pure. Harper is an inspiring character; how she views the world and how she reacts to situations. Readers will no doubt learn a lot from Harper. I did! Marlowe lives abroad with her boyfriend and is succeeding in her studies. Her studies of butterflies is lovely and I enjoyed reading about her research. Butterflies are significant in the story. She is very protective of her sister, Harper.

Harper lives in Hong Kong, where she is discriminated against for having down syndrome. Hannah Bent’s cultural knowledge of Hong Kong is evident in the story. The discrimination Harper experiences will impact her life. I felt very emotional reading the lack of acceptance and little value people place on others’ lives. Reading about Harper, who could teach us all a lot about the world, has made me consider the importance of sharing an awareness of how people with down syndrome may be treated instead of how all should be treated –  equal!

After reading the novel I was inspired to read more on Hong Kong and how people treat others. I was relieved to read of a recent change in June 2020 in which positive changes were made to the Discrimination Laws in Hong Kong. I also read of an American girl with Down Syndrome who fought for her rights to be treated equally in respect to her heart transplant. We need to fight for equality. Hannah Bent encourages readers to do this by writing a personal story and allowing us to fall in love with her characters.

I have felt that hum, Harper talks about, in my grief and I feel the hum in everyday situations. I love this description and find that it comforted me personally. This is more than a fictional book. It comments strongly on issues of discrimination, acceptance, disability, grief, loss and equality. Hannah Bent – what an inspiration! We need to do more in society to ensure equal rights for all. Thank you Hannah for writing a book that will be life changing for those who read it.

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