Tuesday, February 13, 2007

You'll laugh, you'll cry

Side Effects by Amy Goldman Koss
4Q 3P M/J

How often do you read a book about someone with cancer and wish it had been longer? Not often, I imagine. But I liked Izzy so much that I wanted to spend more time with her. And, to be honest, I thought that the book rushed through her treatment a little too much. Then again, how many scenes of spectacular projectile vomiting does one book need? Seriously, this is a really good book. And it didn't make me feel as though I was being manipulated, as I feel when I force myself to read books by an author who writes book after book about kids dying from (mostly) cancer.

Izzy actually feels fine the morning she looks into the mirror and realizes that the glands in her neck are unusually swollen. Her mother makes a doctor's appointment for her, but Izzy is more worried that her mother will make her go back to school afterwards than she is about what the doctor might say. Nobody is prepared for the news they receive: Izzy has lymphoma, and they need her to go to the Children's Hospital now for treatment. Cancer? She has cancer? How can that possibly be? It doesn't seem real to her, even when she's admitted, even when they hook her up to an IV, even when they do the biopsy to find out more about her cancer. But it becomes horribly real with her first dose of chemo. Constant nausea and vomiting will do that.

There's no two ways about it. Cancer is horrible. The treatment is tough. But so is Izzy. And Izzy refuses to give in to her cancer. She has a dry, sarcastic wit that never wanes, even when she's at her sickest. She has her drawing, which keeps her mind off what is happening and helps her cope. She has a best friend who only occasionally gets weird on her. She has boys to worry and dream about. And she has a family that loves and supports her, even though her little brother still treats her just the same as he always did, which means he isn't always exactly sweet. Izzy is going to fight this cancer, and she is going to win.

This is not a book about dying. Izzy never doubts that she is going to survive, and she never gives up hope. This is not the book to read if you want to wallow in sadness and misery. This is a book to read if you want hope and something life-affirming. (That being said, I must say that some of the scenes dealing with her treatment pull few punches, so they can be difficult to read.)


Some examples of Izzy's wit:
  • There was the "Live Nude Girls" sign that made me wonder, when I was little, whether other places had dead nude girls.
  • Of the CAT scan she says: Insert girl. Radiate. Deafen. Remove.
  • Meeting her social worker (aka S.S.):

    I grabbed my pen and notebook, inspired to do this smarmy woman's portrait. I bet she thought she was hot s**t. I practically cackled as I gave her tights and a billowing superhero cape. Then I added a halo because her friends, if she had any, probably thought she was a friggin' saint for working with cancer kids. Saint S**t. I emblazoned S.S. in a crest on her chest, and snickered.
    "I'll come back later then," the S.S. baby-talked. "Would you like that, Isabella?"
    I said, "No."
    "Izzy!" Mom sputtered. "Don't be rude!"
    So I smiled sweetly and said, "Sorry, I meant no, thank you."

  • Amy Koss's teens always feel and sound like real people to me. She hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a kid. I love that despite everything that Izzy is going through, she remains firmly rooted in the things that have always been of interest and concern to her. So a bunch of kids from her school have written her get well notes? Okay, fine, whatever. Is there one from her secret crush, Jared? THAT would be worth getting excited for.
  • Another proof of this: If you're in middle school and haven't read The Girls, you might want to take a look at it.

  • As you can see from the quote above, Izzy's mouth isn't sparkling clean. This book does contain swears, and they are appropriate to the emotions and situations of the characters who say them.

Wizards and Warriors

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
4Q 4P M/J/S

(Why is there a shortcut/toolbar icon for bolding and italics, but not underlining? I can make it do an underline for the title, but only if I code it myself. Is underlining a thing of the past or something? How annoying!)

What if you found out at the age of sixteen that you weren't who you always thought you were? What if you found out that the medication you've been taking every day all your life isn't really to keep your heart healthy, but is actually a magic potion that keeps you hidden from people who want to kill you or kidnap you? What if you forgot to take that medicine one morning, and accidentally released a burst of power as a result? What if you found out that that one little mistake put you right in the middle of a deadly game of Wizards and Warriors?

That's exactly what happens to Jack when he forgets to take the medicine he's taken ever since he was a baby. It's weird, really. As far as he can tell, there's absolutely nothing wrong with his heart and never has been. But he's been told that he had an operation on his heart as a baby, and sure enough, there really is a scar on his chest. But there's never been a problem. He's even made the varsity soccer squad. So he doesn't worry much the day he forgets to take the medicine, except for dreading what his mother will say. In fact, he actually feels better, a little...stronger? A little more...aware? Something, anyhow. He goes to soccer practice feeling pretty good, until Garrett Lobeck starts giving him grief. But what happens to Garrett isn't something Jack tries to do. It just...happens. Jack sticks his arms out to fend off Garrett, a burst of power leaps from his fingers, and Garrett goes flying into the goal. Jack didn't even touch him!

Now the secret is out. Jack's no ordinary boy. He is, in fact, a warrior. In the next few weeks, Jack tracks down the magical sword destined for him, is nearly killed several times, begins his warrior training, and maybe, just maybe, falls a little bit in love. He discovers he has many loyal friends and protectors. And he also discovers that there's even more to learn about his birth and his birthright. He'd better learn it all fast, because wizards from all over the world felt his blast of power, and now they know where to look for the boy who is possibly the very last undiscovered warrior left. The wizards long ago divided into two camps, and both camps are desperate to get their hands on him. Jack is a pawn in a very deadly game, because he holds the key to their power. He is to be the warrior champion of whichever house gets to him first. Think gladiators and the Coliseum. Think savage medieval jousts. Think mortal combat, fighting to the death for a cause that is not your own.

This book is a fast-paced adventure, with sword fights, martial arts, battles to the death, narrow escapes, unexpected twists, and an ending that hints at more to come.