Wink by Rob Harrell (9781984815149)
Ross desperately just wants to be normal, but that isn’t working out for him. After being diagnosed with a rare eye cancer, he has a permanent wink. He goes for treatments each week, making friends with an old guy who is always there as well as with one of the technicians who is desperate to improve Ross’ taste in music. Meanwhile at school, he is steadily becoming stranger as his hair starts to fall out in clumps, he has to use gloppy creams, and he starts to wear a hat all the time. He’s the opposite of normal and the bully in his class definitely notices. But even as he gets further from normal, he starts to figure some things out, like how great it feels to play the guitar even if your fingers are ready to bleed, how amazing it is to play in a band, and how a ton of humor can get you through almost anything.
Based on the author’s personal story, this book takes a unique look at a cancer journey. Harrell’s book is downright hilarious, never allowing the book become too full of the harrowing nature of having a rare cancer and the impacts of the treatment. Ross and Rob are too funny to let that happen, incorporating the adventures of Batpig to help. Through all of the humor a poignancy shines through, allowing those moments of serious crisis to really stand out with their importance and yet also their impermanence.
The book is filled with comic pages, art, and notes. It has hair clumps, face goop, music mixes and more. These graphic elements help to break up the text but also really demonstrate Ross’ skill with art and his quirky sense of humor as he deals with his cancer.
Funny, sarcastic and honest, this is a cancer book with laughter and head-banging music, not tears. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Story about Cancer (With a Happy Ending) by India Desjardins, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer, translated by Solange Ouellet (9781786039774)
As a teen heads to her doctor appointment to find out how much time she has left to live, she thinks about her path to this moment. Diagnosed with leukemia at age 10, she didn’t know anyone who had cancer. She thinks about the awful hospital decor done in colors meant to calm and soothe. She thinks about the hospital smell that seeps into her clothes and skin after a time there and how she begs for lavender to be sprayed all over when she gets back home. She thinks of her parents and their support for her, but also the difficult conversations she has had to have with them about losing her battle with cancer. As the book promises, it does have a happy ending, one that will be greatly appreciated by teens with cancer and those who love them.
Originally published in French in Canada, this graphic novel for teens has a unique feel. Not done in panels, but in more of a free-flowing form, this novel is a quick read that speaks about the process of fighting cancer, the deep emotions that come with your life being at risk, and the importance of family and hope to keep you afloat in the dark times. The voice telling the story is written with a ringing clarity that cuts through any sentimentality and speaks honestly to the reader.
The art in the book is touching and emotional. It captures what the narrator is feeling and their view at the time, often making the words all the more powerful as it gives an image to the emotion. There is a beautiful translucent nature to the illustrations, an ethereal feeling made all the more effective given the subject.
A vital book filled with hope and a happy ending. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Hazel has known she is terminal since she was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at age 12. But then a drug that worked on only a small percentage of the population actually worked on her and her tumors shrunk. At age 16, she’s still not healthy: her lungs need to be drained regularly and she has to cart around an oxygen tank. She also doesn’t attend high school, having gotten her GED. Hazel spends her days watching trashy TV and reading books, forced out of the house only to go to a support group for teens with cancer. It’s there that she meets Augustus Waters, a boy whose leg was lost to cancer. The two form a bond almost immediately, but Hazel doesn’t want to get close to anyone who could be hurt by her death. However, Augustus is not the type of person to be ignored easily and Hazel may just have a lot more life to lead than she ever imagined.
Green manages to write a book with characters who have cancer that is not a “cancer book.” It bears absolutely no resemblance to those teary paperbacks filled with maudlin sentimentality. Instead it is a purely John Green book, filled with witty remarks, complex characters, and a vast intelligence. Both Hazel and Augustus are characters who are breathtakingly rendered, whole people, who just happen to come fully to life when together.
Green’s writing is incredible here. His phrasing is beautiful and inventive, creating new imagery as he builds this amazing romance and human story. One of my favorite sentences in the book comes on page 25, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” Throughout the book, there are profound moments of insight, things that give pause, make you think, and create beauty from the ordinary.
Intensely personal, vibrantly romantic, and wildly successful, this book may just be the best that John Green has written. Get this into the hands of teens and adults, perhaps with a tissue or two. It is simply incredible. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder
Cam has been battling cancer for the last seven years. At age 16, she has reached a point where nothing more can be done. All she has left is acceptance and a lot of attitude. But Cam’s mother and sister are not ready to give up hope, so they move the family north from their lives at Disney World in Florida to Promise, Maine. Promise is a small community where miracles happen. Cam certainly doesn’t believe in miracles or religion for that matter, but Cam feels the magic of Promise too. Her blemishes from the disease fade, her hair grows long, and she feels better than ever. Then there is her Flamingo List that she created at summer camp. It’s a list of things that she wants to do before she dies. Many of them seem very unlikely at first, but as the summer goes on, she ticks them off the list. Cam has one final summer to reach her goals and even to exceed her own expectations.
This is not a weepy cancer book at all. Rather it is the story of a sarcastic, brilliant girl battling a disease and finding a place to be herself and create the best days ever. In Cam, Wunder has given us much more than a tragic story of the last days of a life. Instead Cam seems more filled with life than the rest of us. She shines, entrances and lives with abandon. It is like watching a shooting star race past.
Wunder also creates an entire cast of impressive supporting characters. They are often introduced as stereotypes, but then they become more fully realized as the reader gets to know and understand them. We as readers get to discover the characters alongside Cam. The setting of Promise, Maine is also beautifully rendered with the magical parts interwoven to create a dance of magical realism and realistic fiction.
Gorgeously written and realized, this is a powerful read with a great, flawed heroine. Appropriate for ages 15-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Razor Bill.
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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Jim Kay
Released September 27, 2011.
Conor awoke at 12:07, just after midnight, from his nightmare, the one he had been having for years. Then he realized that something was calling his name. It was a monster, but not the monster from his dreams. It was another monster, a monster who came walking to tell him three stories and then Conor had to tell him the fourth and final story. And it had to be the truth. Conor had not told anyone the truth for some time, not since his mother had first gotten sick. Now she was worse again. So Conor turned to the monster in the hopes that he could save her, that that was what had brought the monster walking.
Ness has created a powerful book from the final idea that Siobhan Dowd left before she died. It is gut wrenching on so many levels. You have a monster who is breathtakingly real, a boy who is disappearing into his mother’s illness, and a story of cancer and all of the feelings and emotions it creates and doesn’t allow to be expressed. This is a book about the time before the loss, the anguish of the waiting, the hollowness not only inside the surviving family but around them as well, and the anger that is a part of grief too.
Ness does not duck away from anything difficult here, rather he explores it in ways I haven’t seen before. He takes the darkness and makes it real, makes it honest, creates truth from it and lays it all bare. It is a book that is difficult to read but too compelling to put down.
Kay’s art runs throughout the book, framing the text. It helps create a mood for the entire work, one of darkness and lightness too. He plays with such darkness in his art here that it is sometimes a matter of black and blacker. The art, done just in black and white, speaks to the power of the monster, the blaze of life, and the fragility of it as well.
I simply can’t say enough good things about this book. It is a stunning work that truly does tribute to Siobhan Dowd’s idea. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.
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