Let’s acknowledge right away that there are some similarities to The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Two spunky teenagers dying of cancer are in love, and want to live out the rest of their days in a validation of their existences. But there are differences enough to justify reading this book as well as the wonderful book by John Green.
This story takes place in a hospice. As the 17-year old narrator Rich Casey explains, “you only get into hospice if your prognosis is under a month.” He continues, “You arrive and thirty days later, you either go home or Go Home.”
The story begins on Halloween, a holiday that used to be Rich’s favorite; when he was little, he loved to dress like a werewolf. Richie explains that three years earlier “the real monsters” marched into his life: “Surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, all those guys with knives and poisons and lethal rays.”
And yet, as Richie wryly notes, somehow, suddenly, he has girls actually competing for his sexual favors! In spite of this “hot-guy heaven” however, he doesn’t forget that he also has “the SUTHY Syndrome”:
…six years of chemo, radiation, a zillion surgeries, loss of a couple major organs, watching your mom age twenty years in twenty months – if that’s not some kind of mistake, if that’s part of the Big Dude’s plan, well, then, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”
In other words, Somebody Up There Hates You.
Nevertheless, Richie is still a teenager, and there’s the matter of the pretty 15-year-old girl down the hall, Sylvie, with whom he falls in love. Richie not only likes the way she looks (hairless and all), but also admires her sophistication, her honesty and her fierceness.
In his effort to have some solitary time with Sylvie (not easy in a hospice with crying family members constantly about), he enlists the help of the staff. He is so focused on his own needs though, he forgets that those who take care of him night and day are people too. After a number of episodes in which he causes a lot of trouble and pain, his favorite nurse Edward loses patience with him:
Everybody’s got troubles, you know that? The world’s a universally sad and fucked-up place. People hurt, all of them. You beginning to get that? Or do you still think it’s just you, man? Only you that suffers? Like you’ve been singled out?”
Edward tells Richie to grow up, and he agrees he ought to try, but he’s only got a month in which to do it.
Evaluation: This is a good book and an excellent depiction of what life is like in a hospice both for those who are confined there and those who work there. Yes, it can be heartbreaking from a philosophical standpoint, but the story itself is funny and enlightening. And if you need another reason to read this book at this time, September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Published by Algonquin Young Readers, an imprint of Algonquin Books, a division of Workman Publishing, 2013