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A Story About Cancer With a Happy Ending

Review

A Story About Cancer With a Happy Ending

written by India Desjardins with illustrations by Marianne Ferrer

Leukemia, though a rare childhood disease, is the most common type of cancer affecting teens. The survival rate for the various forms of childhood Leukemia is over 50% on average but, of course, the treatment, the pain and the anxiety associated with the illness are always difficult for patients and those that care for them. Author India Desjardins once met a 10-year-old girl with leukemia who was frustrated that all the books about childhood cancer had tragic endings; she wanted one with a happy ending instead. And, so inspired, Desjardins has written A STORY ABOUT CANCER (With a Happy Ending). Beautifully illustrated by Marianne Ferrer, A STORY ABOUT CANCER is about 15-year-old girl who was diagnosed with leukemia five years ago. Today she is about to learn if her recent treatments have been successful. No spoilers here: the title lets readers know that the ending will be happy indeed.

"Ferrer’s illustrations are sweet and gentle, but still striking....The stark reality of IV lines and chemotherapy are visually contrasted with the storyteller’s rich interior emotional life..."

Walking into the hospital where she has spent so much time and waiting for the doctor to call her name, the narrator recalls the fear, loss and uncertainty of the past five years. She also thrills to think of her boyfriend Victor and inwardly rolls her eyes at her loving but embarrassing parents. She is at once an ordinary teenager and an extraordinary survivor. Looming large is the memory of her best friend Maxine who died of cancer. The two had been company and comfort to each other during long stays in the hospital. Maxine’s death is counterbalanced by the narrator’s relationship with Victor. Both Maxine and Victor provide friendship and stability. Maxine was able to bring alleviate some of the stress of days and nights in the hospital. Her death left a deep sorrow even while remembering her provides courage. Victor on the other hand gives her a sense of normalcy and normal teenage connections. Desjardins also gives her storyteller an honest and natural relationship with her parents. From her dad’s dumb jokes masking worry to her mom’s brave face, she feels both loved and frustrated by her parents. Desjardins does a great job suggesting that all that would be true with cancer or cancer-free; parents are parents, after all!

Ferrer’s illustrations are sweet and gentle, but still striking, filling each page with a muted and evocative palette of mostly purples and greens. Some pages are Ferrer’s alone, showing hospital rooms and hallways. The stark reality of IV lines and chemotherapy are visually contrasted with the storyteller’s rich interior emotional life, blossoming with flowers, haunted by fear. In the end both the narrative and the illustrations reflect the joy and light of a cure and the promise of a long healthy life full of many kinds of love.

This story, though about cancer, is optimistic. It is a thoughtful and visually lovely look at hardship and hope. A STORY ABOUT CANCER (With a Happy Ending) will challenge readers of all ages to think about health, family, love and heartache, from new and important perspectives.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 30, 2019

A Story About Cancer With a Happy Ending
written by India Desjardins with illustrations by Marianne Ferrer