Tag Archives: illness

Everything Everything

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Giggle, cry, fist pump, fall in love, be heartbroken. Everything Everthing will make you do all of that. It is sweet and cheesy and adorable and fun and hopeful and terribly terribly sad.

Madeline hasn’t been outside her house for 17 years, not since she was diagnosed with SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or the bubble disease) when she was still a baby. She is allergic to the world. Her home is monitored and filtered and there is an airlock to enter.  She does all her school work by Skype, and sees only her doctor mother and her nurse, Carla.  And it’s ok.

Until Olly moves in next door.  And she takes one look at him, tall, lanky, all dressed in black, and knows it will be a disaster.

Madeline and Olly are fantastic characters. Madeline has made peace with her life, and learned to turn off thoughts of the outside world, in case it made her want more. She accepts her four-walled prison, and tries to make the most of her existence, reading, studying, pretending. Discovering the world through Olly, and her excitement at new emotions and experiences with him, leapt off the page. She is incredibly vibrant. He, in turn, all jaded and tough and full of teenage angst and anger and hurt, softens into a big marshmallow with her. SO CUTE.

The secondary characters, if you call any character in a book with such a small cast secondary, really add to the story. Nurse Carla is warm and loving and practical. Sister Kara is rude and defiant. Zachariah dyes his hair four colours and understands secrets.

The execution is great. The addition of pictures and graphs, copies of texts and e-mails, adds realism and insight. What teen doesn’t live on-line as much as in the real world? Nicola Yoon’s writing style is reminiscent of a personal diary; her descriptions of Madeline’s world are vivid, without getting bogged down in too much detail.

The one small issue I had with the story was Madeline’s relationship with her mother. It seemed a bit forced, as if Yoon wanted to make sure we KNOW that Madeline is sweet and her mother loves her more than anything, and life in a bubble with only two other people can be lovely.  I’m sorry.  Show me a teenage girl who has not been rude or harsh or disrespectful or even mildly put-out with her mother, no matter the extenuating circumstances.  Her mom would still love her fiercely even if she was a humungous pain in the ass sometimes… This was by no means a deal-breaker for me with the book, just a facet that stood out.

I did guess the twist at the end, but not because Yoon made it obvious. It was more luck and hope on my part.

Appropriate for all teens, and anyone who remembers the best and worst of young love.

Everything Everything is published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

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Striker

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The Pan Am-Para Pan Am Games are going in Toronto, and Canada is totally kicking ass. What better time to review a sports book?  (That, and Striker is apparently my 9 year old’s “most favourite book ever,” so she cornered me…)  And it is a fun, fast read for anyone who enjoys a feel good story.

Cody is 13, and recovering from cancer surgery on his leg.  His passion is soccer, and sitting out a season while he dealt with chemo and surgery were probably harder for him than the actual illness.  But now he is on the road to recovery, and he badly wants to try out for a local rep team. His over-protective mother might be harder to convince than the cancer was to beat!

He makes the Lions as a “Super Sub,” the nickname the eleven substitute players give themselves after they realize that they will be watching the season, and not playing at all. Cody does not want to tell anyone about his cancer, and is self-conscious about his weakened leg and lack of hair, all made worse by the bullying from a few teammates.

After a mid-season shake-up, the Super Subs find themselves the only players on the team, and their good humour and willingness to play helps form them into a great team. Cody learns to trust his new friends, and his leg.

Striker is a good middle-grade novel about bullying, life after illness, friendship, and soccer. The story looks at bullying between kids AND between adults, as well as the effects of childhood cancer on a whole family.  It is a fun read for anyone who likes the sport.

Striker is published by James Lorimer & Company.

Extraordinary Means

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Extraordinary Means…  This story turns over and over in your head.  I read it a few days ago, but have had to sit on it for awhile.  It’s not a book that you want to rush to judgement on; my feelings for it have been all over the place since picking it up.

Type A-future-Wall Street-investor and super-nerd Lane is 17 years old and dealing with a new diagnosis of TDR-TB, or total drug resistant tuberculosis. He is sent to rehab at Latham House, part hospital and part boarding school, all sanatorium, and the only place where Lane discovers you can actually fail breakfast. And naptime.

On the first day, Lane recognizes a girl from camp. But instead of the brace-faced loner from his early teens, she has transformed in a beautiful, smart-aleck miscreant. She and her group of like-minded troublemakers draw Lane in like a magnet; he, who has never cared whether or not he “belongs” in his lifetime of overachieving, wants to become one of them. After a false start and the correction of a long held, if mistaken, grudge, he is absorbed into the mismatched group, and crosses more lines the first day than he has his entire existence.

Sadie, Nik, Charlie and Martina all have secrets, individually and as a group.  The black market smuggling ring, the illicit trips to Starbucks for butterbeer lattes (who knew?), juicebox vodka martinis and a general disregard for their own health and safety, just to name a few. They are, after all, teens. What could happen?

While normal teenage secrets and activities can sometimes be consequence free (beyond a hangover and a grounding), at Latham House, the fallout can be life-threatening. Lane and Sadie find each other, but TDR-TB has no sympathy for first love or teenage pranks.

Told in the alternating voices of Sadie and Lane, we see both sides of their relationship, and two views of illness. Both cope with love and loss so differently, so authentically.

Author Robyn Schneider has a degree in bioethics, and her knowledge and research are evident throughout the book. I had to do a bit of research myself after reading it, just to make sure it was, in fact, a story, and not real life. Scared the crap out of me, especially after I inhaled my tea by mistake and had a coughing fit lasting 20 minutes.

The story is set in a contemporary alternative reality.  All the terrible diseases we thought were eradicated have returned, and all are resistant to our former wonder drugs.  Polio, tuberculosis, Ebola, you name it. Back with a vengeance. And science cannot keep up.

The novel is dark, it is funny, it is heartbreaking.  It is about unlikely second chances, and what you make of them. It is the difference between being alive and living your life.

I wanted everyone to live happily ever after, with their time at Latham House an ever dwindling bad dream, until it became nostalgia.  But it can’t happen that way.

Read the author’s notes at the end; her explanation of how she came up with the story is fabulous. This novel is appropriate for all teens.

Extraordinary Means is published by Katherine Tegen Books.

Althea & Oliver

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What happens when what you thought was the truth, what you spent your life expecting, turns out not to be true?  Althea & Oliver leads the reader to an interesting and unexpected answer to that question.

It is the mid-1990s, in Wilmington, NC.  Althea is the 17 year old punk ass bad girl half of the best friend duo who met when they were 6 years old, and have been inseperable ever since.  She is athletic, artistic, impulsive and unsociable; Oliver is all she thinks she needs.  Oliver is the good boy, the conscience and the social half, a studious, serious teen who wants to study astronomy at MIT and one day save the world.

Their junior year in high school, Oliver gets sick.  He is diagnosed with Kleine-Levin Syndrome – he falls asleep and loses weeks, even months, of his life. Althea must learn to deal with blocks of time without her other half, because her life can’t stop, even though it sometimes feels it should.

And life does go on without him, which is hard enough for both to accept.  He wakes up to a different world each time, where he is just expected to fit back in with everyone else. But during one of these extended sleeps, something bad happens; Althea makes a really bad decision and hides it from him.  When she finally gets the nerve to tell, he is devastated. Furious, he ends the friendship and leaves town.

What happens when she follows is the real story.

Althea & Oliver looked like a simple, predicable love story: friends forever, fall in love, hit a few bumps, find each other again, live happily ever after.  It was not.

Teenagers make stupid decisions.  All the time. You just hope the decisions are made in a safe environment.  At that age, we all thought we were smart, we knew more than anyone else.  But let’s be honest with hindsight: we made stupid decisions too.  We were inappropriate and indestructible. And somehow, we survived.  Teenage relationships are  fraught with pitfalls at the best of times. They can be unhealthy, they can break down, and it’s not pretty.

Althea and Oliver and all their friends are those teens. Sometimes their behaviour seemed so real, and other times, I think author Cristina Moracho was forcing the story to get to her desired ending.  There seemed to be no consequences for any actions – heavy drinking, drugs, sex – all just seemed to be part and parcel of the teens’ days.  Although parents were present in the story, they didn’t seem parental at all.  Moracho had to let the teens live lives of their own control in order to make her story happen, and a whole town of uninvolved parents seems hard to swallow.

So, try as I might, I did not love the book.  It was good.  The conclusion was fantastic.  I loved how it did not go where expected.  But there were too many inconsistencies for me to totally believe it.

Appropriate for teens 14 and up.

Althea & Oliver is published by Penguin.

 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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I almost didn’t read this book.  Sorry to sound cynical, but another book about a teen dying of cancer?  How many do we need?

That’s what I thought this book would be.  It isn’t.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a book about a boy befriending a girl, but it not a book about cancer.  The illness is a subplot to a good story about a teen who just wants to coast through life, who hasn’t figured out yet who he is and who he wants to be.

And it is good.  It is well written and absolutely laugh out loud hilarious.  The humour is juvenile and smart, totally what you could picture a teen finding funny.  It never occurred to me (and really, why would it?), that I would burst out laughing at the word “f@&kbiscuit”.

Greg is 17 years old, and has spent his teen years flying under the radar.  He says hello to all the groups at school (jocks, goth, geek, etc), but does not fit in with any specific one.  He has one friend, Earl, a foul-mouthed kid who sees life how it really is, and accepts it.  Earl is awesome. They spend their time playing video games and trying not to get beaten up by Earl’s older brothers.  They fancy themselves filmmakers of a dark sort, and the descriptions of their attempts will leave you howling.  They are two fantastic characters written with great humour.

Rachel is a acquaintance from the past, with whom his mom forces him to reconnect.  She has leukemia, and to Greg’s surprise, the two do hit it off again, and form a friendship. His attempts at humour are actually appreciated, and their conversations are fun and awkward, as you would expect from two teens forced together by their mothers.  They like each other, so, of course, you expect them to find an all-consuming love.

Does not happen.  “She didn’t have meaningful things to say, and we definitely didn’t fall in love.  She seemed less pissed with me…”

Greg feels like he should be changed by Rachel’s illness, and maybe in the end he is, but what I like here is the honesty from author Jesse Andrews that sometimes life just is what it is.  Greg actually doesn’t always want to hang out with Rachel.  Even though he does like her, he wants to keep living his life the way he always has,  and just pretend everything is the same.

This book is good for all teens, and very relatable.  It is well written, the humour is hilarious and inappropriate, but some of the self-deprecating jokes go on a bit too long and lose their impact.  They become filler to an otherwise really good story.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is published by Amulet Books.