The Princess and the Pea, with black market organs
So, this book really worked for me. It worked for me as much as Charlie, Presumed Dead didn't work for me.
To summarize: this book is basically the Princess and the Pea, set in a crime family that does black market organ sales for a (very lucrative) business. The main character, Penelope, is the sheltered daughter of the Landlows, the most powerful of the Families that control the organ trade. She is extremely medically fragile, suffering from idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) which causes her spleen to destroy her platelets, leading to a serious bleeding disorder. Her blood can't clot.
As a consequence of this, she is 17, but she, at times, acts like she is about ten years old. She has been sheltered to the point of being homeschooled by a tutor. She is rarely allowed off the family compound, where her platelet count is constantly monitored, and she has a doctor who is basically devoted to managing her medical condition. Interestingly, a splenectomy (removal of the spleen) can sometimes help with the condition (this interesting to me mostly because of the fact that her family is involved in organ trade, so, irony. Sort of).
The beginning was a bit slow. There are suggestions that shit is about to happen. And then shit does happen.
Which is the point at which the book really captured my attention. Because suddenly this sheltered girl is on the run, with a devastatingly difficult to manage medical condition.
The discussion of "strong female characters" is always an interesting one to have - and often the discussion about strong women is framed by looking at strong men. Women who are physically intimidating, able to compete with men physically on an even playing field - women warriors, competitive female athletes, lady knights, and the like - are often what authors create when they are looking to write a "strong" woman. All to often, these strong characters are one-dimensional, cartoon cutouts of real people.
That is definitely not Penny Landlow - there is no argument to be made here that she possesses physical strength, which takes that out of the equation completely when we're talking about "strong" characters. But in other ways, Penny shows great strength. She ends up being far more resilient and resourceful than even she would have expected. She has been protected her entire life, but ends up turning those tables and acting as a protector.
There are many ways to be strong, and they don't all involve physical strength.
The romance is also sweet. It feels a little bit immature, maybe, because Penny's physical limitations also limit the level of physicality that is possible in her romantic relationships. But, because she doesn't share her condition, her love interest is the only person who has ever seen beyond her illness, to see her as a person, not just a diagnosis.
And, there is a big-ass coincidence, which would ordinarily annoy the crap out of me. But I was nonetheless so charmed by this book that I didn't even care.