A cancer survivor must readjust to “normal” middle school life in this hopeful novel from the author of Star-Crossed and Truth or Dare.
Norah Levy has just completed two years of treatment for leukemia and is ready to go back to the “real world” of middle school. The hospital social worker warns her the transition back may be tricky, but Norah isn’t worried. Compared with battling cancer, how tricky can seventh grade be?
Very. Everyone is either treating Norah like she will break at any second, or acting weird about all the attention she’s getting. Her best friend, Harper, does her best to be there for Norah, but she doesn’t get it, really—and is hanging out with a new group of girls, leaving Norah feeling a little unsteady. Norah’s other good friend, Silas, is avoiding her. What’s that about, anyway?
When Norah is placed with the eighth graders for math and science she meets Griffin, a cute boy who encourages her love of drawing and Greek mythology. And Norah decides not to tell him her secret—that she was “that girl” who had cancer. But when something happens to make secret-keeping impossible, Norah must figure out a way to share her cancer story. But how do you explain something to others that you can’t explain to yourself? And then, once you find the words, how do you move forward with a whole new ‘normal’?
I absolutely, positively, completely loved this story. It’s true that I bought this mainly because I knew the author had another book about queer girls, and I saw this one and fell in love with the cover. But my god, what a good decision it was.
I volunteer with an organisation dedicated to helping children who are or have been affected by cancer. One of the biggest things we do is volunteer our time to go on camps with these children; sometimes the child I’m paired with has or has had cancer, or sometimes their sibling has or has had it. Either way, their lives have been affected pretty heavily by cancer. Some of the conversations or musing in this book could have been plucked right out of the conversations I’ve heard from the children on these camps. I knew reading this story that the author, Barbara Dee must have either been one hell of a writer/researcher or had experience with childhood cancer. The first option is undeniably true, but unfortunately the second one is as well. There are so many things in this book- big and small- that could only be written this well by someone with first hand experience, and as a reader, that made this book all the more compelling for me.
It was amazing to watch Norah grow through the course of her story. She developed a lot, and it’s really easy to pinpoint how certain events/moments helped her to achieve this. Her friends were also a huge part of this development; even the ones who maybe weren’t all that great for her. And as a future teacher, I have to say that two of my favourite characters were Norah’s tutor, Ayesha, and her English teacher, Ms Farrell. I loved that Norah had so many adults in her life that cared for her and just wanted her to be happy and healthy. I’m glad that some of these adults gently pushed her outside of her comfort zone.
Most of all, I loved Norah’s family in this. Her parents divorce before the story begins, but their main priority (as it should be!) is their daughter. Norah’s father has a new girlfriend, and there’s initially some tension surrounding this, but it’s handled really well throughout the story and the family dynamics by the end were giving me warm fuzzy feelings inside.
A quick list of some of the things that really stood out for me in this book:
- how true this book is to pre-teen girls and their thoughts and feelings
- the way Greek Mythology was woven into the story
- the fact that there was so many side characters and yet I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of names
- the family dynamics
- the sweet developing romance that felt so natural and lovely
- the casual and natural diversity in regards to sexuality and race.
It’s amazing how positive and light this book is for dealing with such a traumatic subject, but Dee does it amazingly well. This isn’t a story about cancer, this is a story about life after cancer. And boy does it show us that life after cancer is complicated, exhausting, rewarding, and above all, worth it. I will 100% be recommending this to students when I am in the classroom, and even though it’s a middle-grade novel, I will be shoving it towards all of the adult readers I know as well.
Norah, our main character, is Jewish, although this is only briefly mentioned. One of the side characters, Norah’s tutor, is a woman of colour and mentions moving in with a girlfriend. Many of Norah’s middle school friends are explicitly described as people of colour.