Mischa “Ish” Love is a precocious 12-year-old who is heavily into science and environmentalism, to the chagrin of her mom, who wishes she would be more relaxed and enjoy life more. (Ish says her mom “has obviously mistaken me for an ice dancer or a regular girl…”)
Ish for her part is frustrated that she is the only one who seems to be taking the planet seriously, while other kids “run around and throw their candy wrappers into the wind and assume someone else is going to clean up their mess.”
Ish did, however, have a great deal of fun when her BFF, Tig Diaz, lived next door, but he moved away nine months prior, and she hasn’t heard a word from him since. Tig shared her concerns and dreams, but just dropped her without a word. She tries to pretend he is just “dead to her” now, but she misses him, and is lonely and hurt.
She tries to think about other things, and occupies her time planning for her eventual immigration to Mars as part of the “Mars Now” project that purports to be equipping Mars for settlements in ten years. She will be 22 then and just knows she will be perfect, if only they will accept her into the program. She and Tig had spent six years planning for what they would do on Mars and how they would survive. She muses:
“If people were all either flowers or weeds, I’d be a weed. Weeds are survivors. Weed are what they need on Mars. Nothing fragile. No one who will die at the first sign of trouble.”
But alas, Ish turns out to be a flower after all, when it is discovered that she has an aggressive brain tumor. She is told it is the size of a Brussels sprout, so she calls it that, or Nirgal, which was how the ancient Bablylonians referred to Mars – Nirgal meant “death star.”
The rest of the book takes us through the states Ish goes through – the sadness, the anger, and the fear. But eventually she manages to find acceptance of her situation:
“Like you imagine your life is this elaborate line that twists and curls and makes beautiful pictures, but the real beauty of life is that it isn’t like that at all. It’s a meteor, streaking across the sky. Meteors don’t twist and turn. They just cut straight across, faster than you ever imagined.”
Ish undergoes chemotherapy and radiation, but the tumor grows fast, and takes over larger portions of her brain. She loses more and more of a sense of her surroundings, increasingly imagining herself living on Mars, planting things, and waiting for everyone else to come. Finally, all she can see are prisms of light – a symphony of light, “playing inside me, singing about all my beautiful forevers.”
Evaluation: This book is not as depressing as it sounds, but it is by no means a “happy” story. The author does an excellent job of describing the processes of hospitalization and chemotherapy, and portraying what it might be like to have brain functions gradually slip away. This little girl’s journey will help kids understand similar situations of sick relatives or friends in their lives.
Published by Algonquin Young Readers, 2017