by Jordan Sonnenblick
First sentence: “There’s a beautiful girl to my left, another to my right.”
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This is a cancer book. Just to get that out of the way.
Steven is in eighth grade and on his way to being a wicked-good jazz drummer (being one of two eighth graders in the All-City Jazz Band). He has had a crush on Renee since third grade, and she still doesn’t know he exists. And his best friend, Annette, has been acting a little weird lately.
Steven also has a younger brother. Jeffrey is five, and annoying in the way five year olds can be. And while Steven doesn’t mind his younger brother, he often feels like he’s competing with Jeffrey for his parent’s affection. And who can win out against a very cute five-year-old?
Steven starts the year complaining about everything, but in October, things change. That’s when Jeffrey’s diagnosed with leukemia, and Steven’s — well, the entire family’s, really — whole world is turned upside down. It’s heartbreaking and tough to deal with, as we witness this crumbling. And yet, it’s not a downer of a book. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s endearing. Steven’s a good kid, and while he struggles and is resentful, he means well. By the end you’ve grown to love both him, and Jeffrey (whom you couldn’t help but love), and understand and empathize with them. It’s an excellent example of showing: while we get Steven’s perspective, we’re never pummeled over the head with anything.
Which makes it the best kind of cancer book, I think.