Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Don't ever run out of soda, or Somewhere Between Life and Death

Somewhere Between Life and Death (published 1990) is very special, not only because this blog is its namesake, but because one of the main characters is named Amy! AW YEAH.

Back in the day, this book was all on its own:

Um, what the hell is the thing to the left of that girl's face? Is it the floating face of her comatose sister? If so, why does it look more like a puppet wearing a cheap wig? I mean, I've never seen anyone in a coma except on some episode of Chicago Hope; is that how they look?

Anyways, now it's being packaged with its sequel in one convenient volume, the End of Forever!:

Listen, people, my posts are long enough as it is; I'll recap the second book later. Hopefully you can hold your horses in the meantime. Also, this cover makes the book like a normal modern YA book. Like, I'd pick this up, right? I mean, if not for the glaring LURLENE McDANIEL branding across the top.

This is another book I read as a kid, and I remember liking it, though not as much as all the cancer books. To be fair, I'm not sure there's anything I liked more back then than a good cancer book. Coma books hardly stood a chance!

Oops, did I spoil this one for you? Well, here's what the publisher wants to tell you about it:

The celebration isn't supposed to end in tragedy. The night of their high-school drama group's cast party starts out as fun for sisters Amy and Erin.

Their lives come crashing down when Amy takes the car to get more food and has a horrible accident. Erin and her family pray for Amy to awaken from her coma. But as the monitor bleeps and the respirator hisses, Amy lies somewhere between life and death.

Erin and her parents must find the courage to accept the fact that Amy's life-support system will never bring her back. When she dies, can the family give some meaning to her senseless death? Can Amy's dying become the hope for someone else's living?
It is kind of creepy reading a book about a girl with your name who's in a freaking coma!... especially because I was totally that kid who read about a disease/condition and was convinced I had it too. That said, there's not much danger of fearing you're in a coma when you're actually not, so this book was fairly safe.

(Other safe books include those about kids BORN with conditions! Though sometimes, to be honest, I'd worry maybe doctors had just missed my lifelong condition for thirteen years. YOU NEVER KNOW.)

Anyways, of course since this book features siblings, protagonist Erin and her younger sister Amy, we're treated to all the deets of their oppositeness:

Amy flounced on the bed, sending pillows and clothes flying. "One of us is neat and orderly, and one of us isn't." She smiled innocently.

"It's nothing to brag about, you know."

Amy jumped off the bed and hauled Erin next to her in the mirror. "Look at us, Erin. You're tall, blonde, and graceful, and I'm--well--short, round, and fully packed." [FULLY PACKED??? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?] She patted her hips. [OH MY GOD THAT ISN'T HELPING MATTERS.]

Erin tried not to smile. "What's your point?"

"We're different, that's all. You got the looks, talent, and brains, and I got"--Amy tousled her shoulder-length curly dark hair--"dandruff." [EW GROSS AMY.]
Obviously, this is literature of subtlety. Also I'm surprised Amy didn't mention she looks like a floating dollhead. Oh, wait, is that just post-coma? Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself.

So Erin is a dancer and Amy is an actress (if Lurlene was really going for the polar opposites thing, I would have thought she'd make Erin an aspiring accountant or something, but I guess that'd eff up a bunch of plot points). Amy also volunteers as a clown to cheer up sick kids, and she has a superfantastically hot boyfriend who Erin secretly lusts after. We're probably supposed to help Erin serve some haterade to Amy, because she's too loud and never on time and always blowing off her responsibilities, but, honestly, she sounds like a freaking blast. (Or maybe I'm just showing solidarity with curvy girls named Amy who are way too loud and rarely on time for work.)

So Amy and Erin are working on this performance piece where Amy monologues, Erin dances, and Erin's BFF Shara sings. I don't quite get it, but I have a marketing degree, so take that as you will. Whatever, the whole point is these ladies are all super at what they do! Good work, ladies. I am not good at ANY of those things (okay, I can rock a badass karaoke, but let's be realistic here) so of course I totes envy them. Don't we all!

The performance is a big freaking smash hit (isn't that always the way? smash hit or disaster, nothing in between) and everyone parties it up at the cast party afterwards. WITH SODAS YOU GUYS NOT BEERS THESE ARE GOOD KIDS. They party it up SO MUCH that they RUN OUT of soda OH NOES. Erin is all set to go out and get more, but Amy, who JUST GOT HER LICENSE, begggggggs to go.

Do you guys remember those days? Man, back when I was sixteen, there was nothing I didn't want to drive to. You could have said "Hey, Ames, there's a big line of killer bees flying up from Mexico" and I would have DRIVEN TO THEM because HELLO I just got my license! And nowadays I do things like calling for delivery because driving five minutes to pick up a burger is waaaaay too much work.

Anyways, Erin's all MISS RESPONSIBLE and doesn't see why Amy should go, because:

  1. It's Erin's car.
  2. It's RAINING out.
  3. Amy is NOT an experienced driver.
  4. Erin is a big ol' stick in the mud who doesn't want anyone else doing ANYTHING THAT MIGHT BE FUN FOR THEM.
But finally, as always, Erin relents, and Amy is off on her merry way to get more soda. YAY SODA! You guys, you know I'm getting old and lame, because sometimes all I really do want at a party is a nice can of soda.

The party, uh, rages on into the night, and guess who shows up? AMY'S HOT BOYFRIEND. Apparently he was just going to pick her up awhile into the party; Erin is soooo pissed about this. Listen, Erin, if you had the option of being the last one to leave a party or cuttin' loose with the hottest boy in school, what would you do? Also, I'm sorry, I hate staying for a whole party. Get there, hang out for awhile, mingle, LEAVE. Geez, Erin, this is not awful of Amy.

Amy doesn't return in a timely manner though! YOU GUYS I SAW THE COVER OF THE BOOK SO I'M THINKING THINGS AREN'T GONNA TURN OUT WELL. Of course no one worries at first because, c'mon, it's Amy, she's never on time. But the time ticks by, and people get a little panicky. AND THEY SHOULD BECAUSE:

A blast of wind and rain blew in with a short, plump woman. [Uh, that's basically the best sentence I've read in forever. I wish every time I entered a room that I'd bring in a blast of wind and rain. Could that be my superpower? AWESOME.]

Erin blinked. "Inez!" she cried, recognizing her mother's sales assistant from the boutique. [Oh, yeah, Erin and Amy's mom owns a clothing boutique; this is more important in the next book. I'm glad she has a full-time job though! Of course, it's a total LADY job. Whatever. This is an improvement.] "What are you doing here?"

Inez wrung her hands and grabbed Erin by the forearms. She was crying. "Erin, there's been an accident."

"Mom and Dad?" Erin almost gagged. ["Gagged"? That is a weird-ass reaction. Also, hello, Erin, at this point haven't you been freaking out about, let's see, A) the weather, B) Amy's lack of driving experience, and C) the fact that Amy's been gone forfuckingever at this point? And yet you think this is about YOUR PARENTS?]

"They're at County's emergency room. It's Amy, Erin. Amy's been in a terrible wreck."

So things really don't look good for Amy. This book isn't too big on the medical fetishism but they do explain the Glasgow test, which is how they measure status in coma patients:

"What's a Glasgow test?"

Ellie showed Erin the paper with numbers neatly written in small boxes. "It's a standard for measuring a comatose patient's progress."

"Progress? But she never moves."

Ellie smiled. "Let me explain. We take temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. We check respiration -- in Amy's case she's on a ventilator -- and we do a few neurological tests and grade her on a scale."

"Like what?"

"For instance, we chart whether or not her eyes open. 'Spontaneously' equals a four, while 'none' equals a one." Ellie pointed to the bottom of the chart where the criteria was printed. "On 'Verbal Response' -- you know, whether she reacts when you talk to her -- there's a scale of one to five, with five being 'oriented' and meaning fully conscious, and one meaning 'no response'. For 'Motor Response' a five means she 'obeys commands', and a one means 'no response'."
Oh, man, that is the Lurlene McDaniel I loved! MY MEDICAL TERMINOLOGY, LET ME SHOW YOU IT. Always a relief to get some hardcore medical textbook info out of a young adult novel. Hello, why else did I read these back then?

(Sadly, I am not really kidding.)

So it goes on for a bit with Amy still in the coma, and Erin hanging around the hospital just, ya know, waaaaaaaiting. For anyone who's ever had a family member in the hospital, this part is actually pretty realistic; there's more waiting and stressing and worrying and hoping and bargaining than actual, you know, medical stuff.

But, of course, while waiting in the ICU waiting room Erin has this AMAZING encounter!:

"Sorry I didn't mean to scare you," the girl said. "I'm Beth Clark, and I saw you come in the other night."

Erin mumbled a self-conscious greeting and wished Beth would go away.

"Why are you here?" Beth asked.

Erin told her then realized that it was only fair to ask, "And why are you here?"

Beth stared off in the distance. "It's my mother." Her gaze found Erin's again. "She's dying, and her only hope is if somebody else dies before she does."
That is the CHAPTER END PEOPLE. How amazing is that?

In case you were thinking Beth's mom's life depends on murder or something, it turns out she actually just needs a kidney transplant. That makes more sense, though it's less interesting. Wait, is this FORESHADOWING???

So Travis, the hot boyfriend, stops by to see Amy but of course, being a normal kid, freaks out a bit and can't take it. He runs off and won't return. Erin is pisssssssssed. The thing is, I'm with both of them. I doubt that in high school I would have handled this particularly well, but in Erin's shoes I wouldn't have thought well of Travis at all. Yeah, realism again! This book is actually decent with that.

So Amy had a clown gig scheduled to cheer up sick kids, and Erin decides to be a good sister and follow through with it. Of course she doesn't know what she's doing, but she gets dressed in Amy's clown clothes and clown makeup and shows up. There she meets a dude clown named David (this is SUPER IMPORTANT FOR NEXT TIME GUYS REMEMBER THIS) and they do a great job!!! The clown stuff is kind of cringe-worthy-cheesy, but only because I always think that of clown stuff. I mean, is there an adult who doesn't? Whatever, it's cute, Erin's out of her comfort zone for a good reason, and David is sweet and good with kids, two qualities I tend to like in boys.

Amy is getting worse, not better, and everyone's pretty mopey about it. I don't blame them! It totally sucks. But Beth's mom lucks out because SOMEONE DIES so she gets a kidney AW YEAH. But that is the ONLY good news in the Lurleneverse. An organ donation organization rep shows up to talk to Erin and fam about taking Amy off of life support and donating her organs.

Guess who's not cool with this?

"Retrieve?" Erin said the word bitterly. "Is that what you call killing somebody so you can take their organs?"
I don't know how I feel about this. I mean, I get the whole point of having Beth in the book is so Erin learns how freaking AWESOME organ donation is. So how realistic is it that now she's all "OH HELLLLL NO THAT'S DISGUSTING YOU BEASTS"? Then again, I give her some leeway because she is really just now really understanding that Amy isn't coming back, isn't getting better, isn't doing anything but lying there hooked up to machines forever. I guess I just wish Lurlene would have dwelt more on the "I THINK AMY IS ACTUALLY GOING TO BE FINE" aspect than "YOU AWWWWWFUL BODY-SNATCHERS!!!!!" because I don't think it fits with what the book's been leading up to.

On top of all this, Erin discovers hot Travis is taking ANOTHER GIRL to the big dance. Ugghhhh, this kind of makes me hate on you, Travis, even though I totes get it. If you're ready to move on, great, but maybe not so publicly?

Erin handles it reaaaally badly:

While she waited, she carefully plotted her strategy. Travis lived in a fine old house on Bayshore Drive. When he pulled into his driveway, she'd call to him and make him cross to the bay side of the street, where she'd confront him. They'd be alone, and she'd say everything that was on her mind. He was a louse and a creep, and she'd make him pay for abandoning Amy.

When his headlights turned into the driveway, her mouth went dry, but the hard, cold knot of anger gave her the courage to call to him. Travis hesitated, so she called again, then watched as he jogged hesitantly across the deserted avenue.

"Erin?" he asked, coming closer. "What are you doing here?"

"I want to talk to you."

"Now? It's one in the morning. How long have you been waiting?"

"Never mind. Did you have a good time at the dance?" Her question was laced with acid.

. . .

"You don't know, do you? If you'd been up to see her, you'd know that yesterday they declared her brain dead."

For an instant he looked as if he might be sick, and Erin stepped back, rubbing her arms and feeling confused. It was the reaction she'd wanted, wasn't it? Hadn't she come to hurt him? He said, "I--I didn't know."

"Well, with your big date with Cindy and all, I can see how it might have slipped by you." She reached inside her jacket and extracted the teddy bear [he'd given Amy previously]. "Here's a little something I thought you'd like to have back," she said, holding the bear toward him. "Maybe Cindy would want it."

Travis knocked the bear from her hand, then turned and braced his hands on the cement railing. "You've got a mean mouth, Erin." [OH MY GOD A MEAN MOUTH I TOTALLY WANT TO SAY THIS TO SOMEONE NOW! Okay, let's be honest: I want someone to say this to me. New goal, yay!]

She wanted to leave him alone to think about how he'd wronged her sister, but her feet suddenly felt like lead weights. "I told them that they weren't going to cut up my sister and give her away. I said that I didn't care what their stupid tests showed, I wasn't giving up on my sister." She paused. "Like some people have."

The thing is, this is totally the kind of crazy-ass mentally-unhinged thing I would do. OH MY GOD DID I JUST RELATE TO A LURLENE McDANIEL CHARACTER?

Luckily at this point Erin's parents help her to realize what's going on with Amy, for real, and they come to the mutual decision to remove Amy from life support and donate her organs. There's a nice memorial ceremony for Amy, and everyone's as peaceful as they could be about it.

And while I'd hardly call this a literary wonder, I must say that I didn't hate this book. It's sort of boring in stretches, and the dialogue makes me criiiiiiiiinge, but I related to both Amy AND Erin, and no one suggested anything like WELL MAYBE IF AMY AND ERIN'S MOM DIDN'T HAVE A JOB AMY WOULD NEVER HAVE DIIIIIED, and when the protagonist is being a brat, she's called out on it and learns her lesson. I can't believe I'm saying this but... thumbs up?


Unknown said...


I kind of miss Lurlene McDaniel.

ames said...

Nothing goes with death so well as a hearty helping of clowns!

Anonymous said...

Of all the different kinds of organ transplants, Lurlene made it a KIDNEY transplant?! That's one of the few types of transplants in which a person DOESN'T have to die. Since most people have two kidneys but can get along fine with one, donating a kidney is usually perfectly safe.

ames said...

Rollingstone, you're right, I didn't even think about that. Geez, Lurlene. THINK ABOUT IT.

KayTor said...

I totally know two opposite sisters named Erin and Amy, and one of them is getting a copy of this book next time I see her (especoally since this Erin's sister Amy is already kinda braindead)!

Cookie said...

Well, Amy, as an Erin (though I'm only called that when I'm in trouble. Most of the time, I'm a Cookie), I must say I'm DESPERATELY IN LOVE WITH YOUR BLOG! You are fuckin' hysterical! Oh wait...I said the EFF word. Forgot I was supposed to be "the serious one." *hides whiskey under the desk*

Seriously, you're awesome!

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