Pig-heart Boy: A strong classroom read

Work by Malorie Blackman never disappoints. Pig-heart Boy engages the reader from the first page. The first person narrative draws us into the world of thirteen-year-old Cameron Kelsey who has a serious heart condition, which means he will die unless a suitable donor is found. There are no human donors available.

The novel is driven by the decision of Cameron’s father to seek the help of Dr Bryce, who is involved in controversial animal research. The doctor has been working with pigs with the aim of using their hearts for human transplant surgery. He is searching for the first patient to receive a pig’s heart.

After family arguments and wrangling, Cameron decides he will put himself forward and – after suitable narrative suspense – he is chosen to be the first person to undergo this procedure.

The novel uses this momentous decision to explore very human and everyday issues, which all teenagers will be familiar with and identify with. Cameron is an ordinary teenager who feels his voice is not properly heard by his parents and wishes they would not argue. He engages in friendly rivalry with his friends at the local swimming pool and the desire to touch the bottom of the pool becomes a metaphor for his struggle with life.

Friendship, betrayal and forgiveness are all explored through Cameron’s story. His operation has to be kept secret, as Doctor Bryce has had serious problems with animal rights activists in the past. However, Cameron does tell his closest friend, Marlon. He swears him to secrecy, but is devastated when he realises that Marlon has not kept his word. In fact, Marlon’s father sells the ‘pig-heart boy’ story to the newspapers for a large sum of money. Malorie Blackman adds a moral twist to this fact, too, when the reader realises that Marlon’s Dad has only done this to stop the family home from being repossessed.

The consequences of the transgenic surgery becoming public are that Cameron and his family are hounded by the press and in one disturbing incident Cameron is attacked by an animal rights activist in the street. Prejudice is also explored through the reactions of a girl Cameron really likes in school. She rejects him because she is afraid he might have ‘germs’ from having a pig’s heart.

Difficult decisions are explored throughout the book and the reader becomes fully absorbed in Cameron’s struggles. There are relevant and engaging issues to explore with teenagers in the classroom:

  • The nature of friendship and trust
  • Betrayal
  • Decisions and morality

By Richard Stroud

richardRichard Stroud is a senior English teacher and the Literacy Coordinatorat Lliswerry High School in Newport South Wales, which is an 11–18 urban comprehensive. He has two beautiful daughters and lives at the foot of The Sugar Loaf Mountain in Abergavenny. He is currently writing his first novel.

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