March 25

After ‘Fault in our Stars’… Zac and Mia!

imageZac is condemned – to spend an insufferable number of days, confined to a room, in the cheerful company of his mother. Not that he hates his mother’s presence – he just hates that she feels she has to be here. Or that he has to be here. But that’s what the medical system recommends. For treatment of his disease. And Zac accepts this.

Mia, on the other hand, resists. In the room next to Zac’s, she shouts, argues with her mother, and plays Lady Gaga on repeat, repeat, repeat.

Confined to his room, Zac wonders about the girl next door. Why is she so angry? Why does she argue with her mother? Why doesn’t she realise that the odds of her survival are so much higher than others on the ward? He knows all this – he has spent plenty of time googling for that kind of statistic. And her stats are good…

A.J.Betts  spent quite some time with kids in hospital. That fact is obvious. Her story is woven with mundane but realistic facts about living and dying with cancer. Without being boring, she tells of the ‘day-to-day’ experienced by families impacted by serious childhood illness, and the different ways they might cope.

Some have compared ‘Zac and Mia’ to ‘the Fault in Our Stars’. Some reviewers have criticized it as a copy, but having been written around the same time in a different continent it simply relates a similar focus – of young people dealing with cancer.

Having read and enjoyed both, and investigated the timing etc. needed to publish a book, I would say to the reader just ENJOY BOTH stories, since they have unique qualities to share. Zac and Mia do not go through the same therapy programs (as Hazel and Augustus). Zac and Mia finally meet after talking on Facebook and through hospital walls! Under different circumstances, their paths may never have crossed.

Strangely, the differences in their lives is what draws them together. The support Zac has in his family and friends is sadly lacking, for much of the story, for Mia. Their sameness is the struggle they face with a potentially lethal disease.

Zac and Mia is a thoughtful story, filled with astute observations and discreet comments from an author who has spent time on a hospital ward, supporting young adults in dire times. There is lots to absorb and think about – especially for those trying to understand some of the struggles faced by teen cancer patients.

A little bit extra:

In weeks to come, there will be a list of other books for those who have enjoyed  both ‘the Fault on Our Stars’ and ‘Zac and Mia’.

For those who can’t wait, there is another book worth reading – This Star Won’t Go Out’ by Esther Earl. This is a real life journey, said to have inspired John Green’s story, ‘the Fault on Our Stars’ – this video introduces Esther’s book. (Comments here from John Green and Esther’s sisters.)

That there are a number of books with a focus on young adults with life threatening illnesses at the moment is probably more a reflection of the openness of the medical profession, and more education from the media, than duplication or copying of an idea. What do you think?

May 1

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

“I went to Support Group for the same reason that I’d allowed nurses with a mere eighteen months of graduation to poison me with exotically named chemicals: I wanted to make my parents happy. There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.”

Obviously, Hazel doesn’t think much of her Support Group. But as an only child and the concentrated focus of her parents’ life since her cancer diagnosis, she succumbs to their wishes. What else can she do? Her illness has meant that she no longer attends school regularly, she has to sleep a lot, while her mother tries to encourage her to have a normal life. How normal can it really be when you know you have a terminal illness?

This is not a ‘happy-ending’ story. Very often in real life children and families fighting cancer do not have a happy ending. This is not a book to make you feel good, or to tell you how to be when someone you know experiences the illnesses associated with cancer. But it will make you think.

This fan-made book trailer gives some insight into the thoughts within ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ – a story of what happens when teen cancer patients fall in love.

In an interview, author John Green makes the statement:

“It’s important to note or remember that people who are sick and people who are dying aren’t dead. They’re still alive. And sometimes we forget that, and we treat the sick and the dying so gingerly and so carefully, when often what they most want is to be alive while they are alive.” ‘Star’-Crossed: When Teens With Cancer Fall In Love

That is why he wanted his book to be realistic, and not a sugar-coated tale ready for Hollywood to take to film. The kids in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ want to live and make their mark on the world.

What sort of impression have they made on you, the reader?

February 28

Life on the Refrigerator Door

life_on_refrigerator_doorAlice Kuipers presents a story in an unusual but clever form in her debut novel – post it notes on the fridge.

Claire is your average preoccupied teenager who lives with her mother, a busy doctor, in (it would seem) a busy modern city. We are not given any flowing descriptive passages about their life. Instead, their tale is slowly revealed through a growing collection of notes posted on the refrigerator door.

The messages begin with simple reminders and hellos:

“I made spaghetti bolognaise for when you get in. Love, Mom”

“Babysitting tonight, Mom. Gotta run!!

I can’t find my key. Will you be home to let me in? Call me and let me know.”

…all of which might be recognisable to any busy household.

While ‘Life…’ is relatively easy to read, the concepts it deals with should make the reader stop and wonder. Surprisingly, it is possible to tell this tale through notes left on the fridge door, and it’s interesting to see the tone of the notes change as the storyline about Claire’s mother’s breast cancer develops.

Some people may criticise a book written purely in little notes; others may be happy to see the story develop clear of unnecessary details. Many have commented on how quickly the book can be read (perhaps in under an hour).  However, the subjects it touches on – life’s busyness and the trauma for families facing life threatening illness, are real and worthy of airing in this way. And it might even be a thought-provoking resource for those facing these issues.

Well worth a read. I would love to hear what others think. Is it too spartan? Does it skim the issues too much? Would it really help anyone? Did it make you think?