Cancer Vixen

by Marisa Acocella Marchetto
First sentence: “What happens when a shoe-crazy, lipstick-obsessed, wine-swilling, pasta-slurping, fashion-fanatic, single-forever, about-to-get-married big-city girl cartoonist (me, Marisa Acocella) with a  fabulous life finds… a lump in her breast?”
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Content:  There is swearing (no f-bombs), some tasteful nudity, and lots of naked breasts (it is about breast cancer, after all).  It would be in the adult graphic novel section of the bookstore, if we had it.

The first sentence of this one kind of says it all: Marchetto, a cartoonist who works for Glamour and the New Yorker, had a fabulous life with a new Italian boyfriend she was planning on eloping with, when she — out of the blue, because what other way does cancer happen? — is suddenly diagnosed with cancer.

Much of the book is a detailed blow-by-blow of Marchetto’s cancer treatment, and how that affected her life and  relationships. I found it interesting — I’ve never known anyone who’s gone through this before — but I wasn’t enamored with the story. It was very much “it girl” New York: all the right clothes, all the right friends, all the right things. (Though, she had a LOT of friends, which is a great thing!) I was more interested in her body image issues, especially regarding the models who kept throwing themselves shamelessly at Marchetto’s fiance, Silvano. But Marchetto didn’t really dwell on that; she brushed past it as part of her “negativity”. There was also an undercurrent of evidence why universal health care is needed: she was uninsured when she was diagnosed, and was in a panic about having to pay out of pocket for the treatment. Which turned out to be nearly $200,000. But, she didn’t dwell on that, either. It was very self-centric, and, honestly, I didn’t really care for her. (I feel bad saying that, though.) The art was a bit meh, as well, though I understand why she chose to draw it slightly cartoony; if it were more realistic, it’d be a lot more disturbing. This way, Marchetto was able to keep it from getting too dark while remaining honest about the ups and downs of cancer treatment (and her life).

Not bad, but not my favorite, either.

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Counting Thyme

countingthymeby Melanie Conklin
First sentence: “When someone tells you your little brother might die, you’re quick to agree to anything.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a slight bit of romance (no kissing, just like likeing), but otherwise, it’s great for 4th grade on up. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Thyme has a good life: a best friend, a home near her grandmother in sunny San Diego. But her younger brother has a rare form cancer, and an opportunity for a new treatment has opened up in New York City. Suddenly, Thyme’s good life is taken away from her: in the middle of her sixth grade year her family up and moves. To say she’s not happy with this is an understatement.

It doesn’t help that home isn’t the best place. The treatment is hard on her younger brother, which puts everyone on edge. Her older sister is lobbying for more freedom, which terrifies her mother. And Thyme is just trying to find a place to fit in at school; it’s so very different from home. Which is where she’d rather be.

Cancer books are a dime a dozen, it seems like, so it takes something different to make one stand out. Told from the perspective of a sibling rather than the cancer patient helps. But it’s really the fish out of water theme that makes this one stand out for me. Sure, Conklin captures the stress cancer treatment puts on a family and how difficult it is for everyone, not just the cancer patient. But the parts I liked better were the ones where Thyme was torn between her old life and making a new one. That feeling of being in two places, of having to start over when you move is one that’s hard to capture. And I think Conklin did that well. I liked the variety of people — from the grumpy downstairs neighbor to the Italian babysitter to the friends the Thyme made at school — that populated the book.

A good read.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie

by Jordan Sonnenblick
ages: 11+
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.