Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The bible is right and your doctor is wrong, or Angels Watching Over Me

Just like I couldn't get enough of books about sick kids back in the day, I can't really get enough of the Amish. They're fascinating! I know there is nothing unique about a fixation on their culture; I'm sure lots of us share it. So basically Lurlene hit the jackpot when she figured out a way to combine both diseased kids and the Amish. Lurlene, seriously, you're a friggin' genius.

I mean, sort of?

The first book in the Angels trilogy is Angels Watching Over Me (published 1996), a title we'll discover is less about beautiful metaphors than it is painfully on the nose. What is this one about? The publishers say:
Happy Holidays! Bah humbug. "Happy" is not the way Leah Lewis-Hall would describe herself at the moment. She's spending her twelve days of Christmas in an Indianapolis hospital, while her mother is thousands of miles away on a honeymoon with husband number five. Leah went to the doctor with nothing more than a broken finger, but he ordered her to undergo some tests. Now she's stuck in the hospital, alone.

Then Leah meets her hospital roommate, a young Amish girl named Rebekah, and her big family. Cynical sixteen-year-old Leah has never known people like this before. From Rebekah's handsome brother, Ethan, who can barely look Leah in the eye, to her kind older sister, Charity, the Amish family captivates Leah with its simple, loving ways. When Leah receives frightening information about her condition, her new friends show her that miracles can happen. And that sometimes angels appear in the most unexpected places.
Man, Lurlene really hates mothers, doesn't she?

So I went in search of an image of the original cover, which somehow lead Google to turn up with a disturbing image of the always-heinous Rachael Ray all lathered up in a sink. Listen, Google, it's enough of a struggle not going crazy reading all these glimpses into the Lurleneverse, don't ever do that to me. Also, what about the search terms angels watching over me lurlene mcdaniel should induce that sort of result? Sorry, guys, for taking you there with me. Anyways, this is the original cover:



Nowadays it's packaged in a trilogy with its two sequels:



Leah's a little hotter in this one, I think. Also, at least this one gives a promise of the delightful Amishness contained within! God, you guys, I can't even tell you how much I would have been into this book at twelve or thirteen. I'm not saying that's a good thing, but it's a true thing!

So the book opens right up at the hospital! None of this getting to know our character or caring BEFOREHAND, nope, why waste any pages on that? Leah Lewis-Hall has a broken finger, and yet the doctors want to run tests and not let her go home for Christmas. That's fine, because her mom is on her honeymoon with her fifth husband and doesn't really give a shit about Leah. By the way, Leah's last name is hyphenated for some reason like her mom was gonna get married a lot so why make Leah hang onto only the name of her father when there were going to be a lot of stepfathers? It's really hard to understand what exactly Leah is telling us, so let's just sum it up: Leah's last name is hyphenated because she has a bad mother. Good mothers take their husbands' names, people! Another life lesson from the Lurleneverse!

Obviously this is one of Lurlene's books, so we all know that broken finger isn't going to be JUST a broken finger! Leah's mom is being all "WHAT KIND OF DOCTORS ARE THESE THAT WOULD KEEP YOU THERE FOR A BROKEN FINGERRRR" which, I don't know, is something that if it was happening to me I'd think I'd go, oh, wow, they must have noticed something alarming and they want to check it out. Is that true, or have I just been sucked full-force into the Lurleneverse? Now every sleepy morning, every ache and pain, every bruise makes me panic. Thanks, Lurlene!

Still, I think Leah's mom sounds dumb. But while Lurlene wants us to think she's a bad mom who likes all her marryin' and honeymoonin' more than her kid, I don't think this part is supposed to alarm us. I think my mom would have caught on, but she's one of those wicked working women, so clearly she isn't to be trusted.

Leah's mom asks if she should come home from her honeymoon, but obviously she wants Leah to say no, and Leah is happy to, which makes Leah's mom thrilled she can stay in Japan. Oh my god, you're an awful mom! If my mom didn't come straight home, underestimation of the severity of my medical condition or not, I would have been pretty upset.

Luckily a super nice nurse named Molly comes around to check on Leah. She lets Leah know the hospital is totes jam-packed so Leah could end up with a roommate. Molly is jealous of Leah's mom's trip, and says that because she has two kids, her and her husband probably won't get to travel until they retire. Leah's all, whoa, how friggin' boring that must be, which warms my cold little heart. A teenage girl in the Lurleneverse who isn't dreaming of marriage and babies? Awwww yeah.

Leah's knee starts to hurt (BAD SIGN LEAH!) but she doesn't get all panicky like I would be at this point, deciding instead to calmly read some teen magazines!!!! Oh, teen magazines! She's trying really hard not to think about her grandmother, who her mother never let her see because they disagreed on lots of stuff ever since her son, Leah's father, left Leah's mom. He also ended up DEAD IN AN ALLEY a few years later so I guess he got his! Anyways, her grandmother got the cancer, so Leah's mom let Leah hang out with her. Obviously, Leah's got a lot of bad hospital memories thanks to cancer, and something tells me that trend isn't over yet!

So when Leah gets back to her room after the teen magazine excursion, she finds a little Amish girl in the next bed. Her mother is there with her, and, uhhh, I'm not an expert on the Amish or anything, but do they really talk like this?
"There, there," the woman cooed soothingly. "Do not cry so, Rebekah. You're hurting my heart with such a flood of tears."
I keep hearing her as this totes crazy voice Catherine O'Hara uses at the beginning of this deleted scene from Waiting for Guffman:



Rebekah's mom has to go home, so Leah cheers up Rebekah, who is in the hospital because she was bitten by a spider. They bond right away, because Rebekah's adorable and Leah is actually a decent person.

That night, while Leah tries to sleep, she has flashbacks from the past:
She and her mother were living in a trailer, and Don, her mother's second husband, had been gone for more than a month. Her mother had tucked bedcovers around Leah.

"Don't leave, Mama," Leah had pleaded.

"I have to go to work, Leah. But all the doors will be locked and I'll be back before you get up in the morning for school."

"Don't go," Leah wailed.

"Hush! Stop that. [OH MY GOD SHE'S SO MEAN!] I don't want to go, but I have to if we want to eat next week. Close your eyes and go to sleep."
Man, that is some craptacular parenting. I know single parents have to make shitty choices all the time, but, man, wasn't there a better way Leah's mom could have handled this?

Rebekah's awake, too, and she asks Leah to read to her from the bible. Leah regards the bible in a way I am abso shocked about, coming from the Lurleneverse!:
To Leah it had always sounded sort of farfetched. She knew virgins didn't get pregnant and remain virgins.
Leah, let's totes hang out when you get out of there, okay?

Rebekah's fam turns up to visit the next day: sixteen-year-old Charity and seventeen-year-old Ethan. (There are four more kids back at home.) Ethan's a hottie, of course, because this is the Lurleneverse. Charity's totally nice, though when she tells Leah she doesn't go to school anymore because she knows enough to be a wife and mother, Leah is totes horrified. YAY LEAH! I mean, I'm not dissing the Amish faith here; I'm dissing prescribed gender roles.

Ethan has totes been blowing Leah off, so she confronts him on this. He confesses:
"Dislike you?" He looked as if she'd slapped him. "I do not dislike you, Leah Lewis-Hall. I think that you are the most beautiful girl I have ever set my eyes upon."
Oh hell yeah! That's pretty hot, yeah? Even coming from the Amish.

Rebekah's getting better, and Charity insists it's all the praying, and not the medicine. Actually, there have been studies done that suggest praying does not improve the health of a patient. I know many find comfort in praying, and that's great, I'm just saying this doesn't exactly go along with facts. I know we are all equally shocked that Lurlene might write something that falls outside the boundaries of REALISM.

So this random night nurse shows up and attends to Rebekah, which makes Leah think maybe she wants to grow up and be a nurse! In this book, doctors suck and withhold information while nurses are awesome! While I agree nurses do seriously amazing work that I could never do, doctors aren't all bad! Also, generally in Lurlene's books, doctors are menfolk and nurses are womenfolk. OF COURSE.

Rebekah mentions this night nurse, Gabriella, to Molly the next day. Molly hasn't heard of Gabriella. DUM DUM DUMMMM!

Of course Ethan and Leah hang out, and of course he is made of awesome, though obviously HIS AMISHNESS SEPARATES THEM. Still, they obviously have FEELINGS for each other. In fact, when Leah finds out she has to have a biopsy on her finger and knee, something that should surprise NONE of you, Ethan promises to be there when she wakes up. Aw, Ethan, you're nice!

Gabriella visits Leah too, and tells her she reminds Molly of someone. Oh, all right then, random night nurse. In the morning Rebekah tells Leah that Gabriella says she'll be going home soon. Leah's, of course, happy for Rebekah but OH NOES will she see Ethan again? We've still got sixty pages left of the book, Leah, so I bet you will.

Of course Molly confides to Leah that she reminds her of her sister Emily, who died when she was only fourteen. FROM LEUKEMIA OF COURSE. (To be fair, I just learned the other day that leukemia is the most common disease kids die from! This blog is educating me so much, you guys!)

Ethan is, as promised, there when Leah's awake after her biopsy, even though by now Rebekah has gone home, and Charity helps him and Leah sneak off together, where they totally kiss. As far as the Lurleneverse goes, you guys, this one is pretty hot:
He lifted her chin with his forefinger and very slowly lowered his head until his mouth was only inches away. His breath smelled like cinnamon and felt warm on her skin. Gently he pressed his lips to hers, and she closed her eyes and sank into the velvet softness of it.
You guys, when I was sixteen, there were never hot Amish boys who wanted to mack on me. Alas!

The good times don't last for long, though. Leah's doctor shows up with an official diagnosis: osteogenic sarcoma, known as bone cancer. The next day her and the doctor and her mother have a conference call, and her mom just refuses to believe this. She won't allow the treatments to be started, and says Leah will get a second opinion once she's back from her honeymoon. Man, I think if I had a kid with cancer, even if I found the diagnosis difficult to accept, I'd rather err on the side of caution. Then again, I am not the dumbass Leah's mom has proven herself to be!

Another harsh blow! Molly tells Leah that there's no Gabriella on the staff, and she's probably some creep who gets off on hanging out with sick kids at night. That's hella scary, people! Then again, if you can dream a fetish, there's someone out there who's got it!

So Leah's mom and her new hubby Neil FINALLY show up, and even showing the x-rays to them and Leah won't change her mind. She insists the biopsy be done again. OH MY GOD SURE JUST LET THE CANCER LIKE A SILENCE GROW. The doctor also says sometimes amputations are necessary, and then Leah's mom flies off the handle, all "HOW DARE YOU WANT TO CHOP APART MY DAUGHTER?" and I think she's overreacting, because he said SOMETIMES, but then he's all, yeah, sucks, but that's the best thing to do, so basically I think that not only is Leah's mom an awful mother, but he's a terrible doctor for giving such vague medical advice. I'm sorry, but saying sometimes amputation is best as news that it's necessary is craptastic communication. Way to go! No wonder Lurlene only roots for the nurses in this one.

Leah's mom actually has a nice moment afterwards and apologizes for how she dealt with the whole sitch with Leah's grandmother, back in the day. Since she knows she made such a mistake, she tells Leah she won't make a mistake with this. Like, uh, leaving your daughter's cancer untreated? Oh, no, a DIFFERENT mistake. SORRY FOR MY MISUNDERSTANDING.

Ethan visits, and they smooch some more, and hang out until Leah falls asleep. When she awakens, someone's there, but it's not Ethan. It's creepy Gabriella!!!! Leah hits the call button right away, but Gabriella insists she isn't there to hurt Leah, but to help her. She tells her to go to the hospital library the next day to find a book Molly really wants. Also, she touches Leah's knee and her finger and does this whole "DO YOU WANT GOD TO MAKE YOU BETTER?" thing that I find really creepy, but I know it's supposed to be magical and wonderful.

WELL YOU TOTALLY KNOW WHAT HAPPENS RIGHT?

The book that Leah and Ethan find in the library is EMILY'S DIARY that Molly has been looking for FOREVER. And the results come back and Leah's tumors have gotten smaller. And then SHE KNOWS. That's right, folks, Gabriella is an angel!!! And she totes cured Leah with some power from god! And then Leah's mom gets to get up in Leah's doctor's grill and be all SEE I TOLD YOU MY DAUGHTER WASN'T THAT SICK!

What a terrible friggin' lesson. I'm sorry, if you get diagnosed with cancer, there is probably not an angel who's going to cure you, and the mistake made would not be errant chemo, but IGNORING A SERIOUS MEDICAL CONDITION AGAINST THE ADVICE OF MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS. I find it really troubling that Lurlene wrote a book where basically doctors are the enemy.

By the end of the book, Leah's totally into the bible, of course! Okay, I guess a magic curing angel might change my beliefs too, and, ugh, I know this is technically inspirational fiction, but after all the volumes Lurlene has devoted to painstakingly realistic medical crap, what a friggin' cop-out. I know it sucks that all of Lurlene's heroines tend to die, but is this really the way to save them? Lurlene, you've let me down in yet another new way! I'm gonna have to console myself with some teen magazines.

4 comments:

corenrind said...

This series is a lot weirder than I thought. And you're kidding me right? A child's nurse is seriously like "You remind me of my sister who died of essentially what you're being diagnosed with"? And she's not supposed to be an ASSHOLE?

Off-topically Catherine O'Hara is really giving 170% in that clip.

Oh BTW...... "Dead in an alley"???? For real? Details please.

ames said...

Your wish is my command:

Grandma Hall lived three months from the time she was diagnosed. She might have survived longer, except that one day when Leah and her mother went to visit, Grandma Hall was sobbing uncontrollably. "He's dead, Roberta. My boy's dead. I got a letter from some hospital out in Oregon. They found him unconscious in an alley."

I KNOW RIGHT?

joan wester anderson said...

I enjoyed your "review". I write books about angels, and years before they became popular, I did a teen romance novel under a pen name "Jeanne Anders". I got a lot of mail on it. It's dated now, but you might be able to find it on used books amazon. It's titled "Leslie." I am interested in your comments.

BILLY BOLITHO said...
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