YA Fiction Guest Review: A Story About Cancer (With a Happy Ending)

A Story About Cancer (With a Happy Ending) by India Desjardins and Marianne Ferrer, translated by Solange Ouellet. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2019. 9781786039774. 96pp.

The way cancer is discussed in fiction is very different from the way cancer really feels. In fiction, it’s often used as a shorthand for an unavoidable tragic death or someone bravely battling an illness. Unfortunately, that often spills into the way people treat people with cancer.

This book, written after a girl in cancer treatment asked the author for a cancer story with a happy ending, is more about how cancer really feels. The narrator is a teen with leukemia. She hates the awful pale green, pale pink, and beige of the hospital walls. She hates how the smell of the hospital, like “disinfectant and illness,” sticks to you after you leave and asks her mom to spray her room with lavender. She hates how people look at her like she’s going to die. She hates how her mom, and everyone else, keeps telling her that she’s strong, that she’ll survive this battle. She says, “I never pictured what I was going through as a battle anyway because there was nothing I could do to fight it. All I could do was let everything happen to me and try not to complain too much.” She finally asks her mom the question she’s been afraid to ask: “Mom, if I don’t get better, will you be disappointed in me?”

There is a happy ending, both for her health and for her blossoming relationship with a boy, one who actually treats her like a normal person. I’m glad the ending is right on the cover. (I sort of wish that the books about tragedy and brave battles had a warning sticker for people with cancer.)

The art is beautiful — I especially liked the illustration of the narrator like a floppy noodle person when she’s feeling weak and tired. I know what is essentially a picture book for teens might be a hard sell, but this book is not just needed, it’s also really good.

Guest book review by Sarah Hunt, who used to review books with me on Book Threat. http://bookthreat.wordpress.com/about/

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