Six Months to Live (published 1985) is the first book in the Dawn Rochelle series, which of course is near and dear to my heart as it's the namesake of my roommate Dawn Rochelle! For some reason, I was convinced the Dawn Rochelle series was going to be SUPER AWESOME AND FANTASTICAL. Like, let's be real here; if I didn't still have some sick, twisted desire to read about sick kids and the minutiae of their treatments, I wouldn't be writing this blog. Also, bear in mind, Six Months to Live was voted into a time capsule to be opened in year 2089! Only a quality work of literature could achieve such an honor, right?
Will my wish be granted? Will the Dawn Rochelle series be all I dreamed of? Let's find out!
Lurlene's publishers/marketing department have this to say:
When 13-year-old Dawn Rochelle is diagnosed with leukemia, she's scared. While in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy, Dawn meets Sandy, who also has cancer. Dawn and Sandy battle the disease together, and remain best friends even after they both go into remission and return home. But when Sandy gets sick again, Dawn wonders what the future holds both for Sandy and herself.Sure then!
ETA: In my search for the original publication date, I ran across the ACTUAL original cover, which is pretty fantastic:
If that girl's thirteen, so am I.
Here's one older cover:
Dawn Rochelle's cute! So is her teddy bear! She seems troubled, probably due to her leukemia, so I'll give her a break there.
The cover's been updated a million times. There's this:
Classier, for sure! Not sure this girl passes for thirteen as much as our first dear Dawn Rochelle though.
There's also this one:
You guys, look, now it's LURLENE McDANIEL'S SIX MONTHS TO LIVE. Totes like Oprah Winfrey's Thisever or Tyler Perry's Thatever. Really, Lurlene has risen to the ranks of Oprah freaking Winfrey, and Tyler freaking Perry? I'm not entirely sure, Lurlene, I'm not sure at all.
My copy of this book is actually in a compiled volume of the first four Dawn Rochelle books. I guess that's a spoiler that Dawn Rochelle stays alive for awhile! GO DAWN ROCHELLE! Anyways:
So basically it's the first cover with some Photoshopping. I have no idea, honestly, who that dude is, or why his chest upwards has materialized near our dear Dawn Rochelle. Maybe that tree will become significant? Also I have absolutely NO CLUE what that thing at the bottom is. Was someone building a fence and got confused? What does THAT have to do with leukemia? Or months? Or teddy bears? TELL ME PLEASE.
So, believe it or not, this is how the book opens:
When Dawn Rochelle was thirteen years old, they [they who?] told her she had cancer. She sat in her doctor's office, clutching the hand of her mother, who sat clutching the hand of her father, and stared at the familiar face of Dr. Galland with disbelief.That is QUITE an opener!
Dr. Galland says this is the most common form of cancer among kids (I looked it up, he's right!), and Dawn Rochelle thinks:
A kid! That's what I am, Dawn thought. [All kids totes talk like this too.] She was a kid, just two months over her thirteenth birthday... a seventh grader... cheerleader for Adams Junior High... daughter of Pete and Meggie Rochelle [oh, wait, Rochelle is her last name? Whatever, I'm still calling her Dawn Rochelle]... kid sister of eighteen-year-old Rob Rochelle [firstly, Rob Rochelle is a freaking amazing name, and secondly, this is some smooth exposition!]... super fan of Michael Jackson [before you guys get all WELL THIS BOOK IS FROM THE PAST remember that it was published in nineteen-fucking-ninety-five and there is NO EXCUSE for a thirteen-year-old to be a SUPER FAN of Michael Jackson OH MY GOD LURLENE NO EXCUSE ETA: okay, clearly, this book was published in 1985, so I can't mock Dawn Rochelle for her super fandom. It's still a weird way to define oneself, yeah?]... collector of teddy bears... a resident of Columbus, Ohio... and now, a victim of cancer.There is absolutely nothing about that paragraph that isn't amazing. NOTHING.
Dawn Rochelle's parents are all WTF SECOND OPINION PLEASE which, okay, I totally get denial, and I get being just fucking knocked on your ass by scary medical news regarding a family member, I've been there, but soooo many parents in the Lurleneverse just flat-out don't believe doctors, even when their kids are covered with bruises or have unexplained broken bones, or are so tired it's tough getting up at 4 a.m. Seriously, I really believe if I brought my hypothetical kid in with those symptoms and got the diagnosis, I'd hate it, but I'd buy it. Right? What about you guys? Am I just too fully immersed in the Lurleneverse?
Dawn Rochelle and her parents go home to pack for her stay in the hospital. Man, that's gotta be depressing! Dawn Rochelle reflects on telling everyone:
Rob... Dawn pictured her brother. He was so big and broad across his shoulders.Uh, so I've seen a picture of Lurlene and her brother:
Were they, like, on a date here? Does she think that's normal? Is this why she always writes girls lusting over their brothers? Listen, I have a brother, and I don't sit around and think about his shoulders EVER. This is SO NOT OKAY LURLENE. We really need to have a talk.
When Dawn Rochelle gets to the hospital, you guys are NOT going to believe this, her parents are all, "so what would happen if we just took Dawn Rochelle home instead?" and the oncologist, Dr. Sinclair, is all UM THE FUCK YOU TERRIBLE PARENTS SHE WOULD DIE!!!! Do you guys want to know more about Dr. Sinclair? Too bad:
Dr. Sinclair hated leukemia. Like a person hates evil, he hated the disease.Um. That's weird. Right? If your arch-enemy is A DISEASE, that's kind of creepy. Even if you're a doctor.
So Dawn Rochelle settles in at the hospital and meets her nurse, Fredia. Fredia, really? Fredia tells Dawn Rochelle she's gonna LOVE her roommate, Sandy! Okay, Fredia, I will take you at your word! I always trust a Fredia!
Of course the staff is taking lots of blood from Dawn Rochelle so further tests can be run, but Dawn Rochelle isn't lovin' that!:
Vampires! she thought. The place seemed full of vampires.Yes, Dawn Rochelle, after they draw out your blood WITH A NEEDLE they take it elsewhere and DRINK IT. Or maybe it's that whole leukemia thing they told you about? I dunno, the vampire explanation seems waaaaaaay more likely.
Sandy's from West Virginia, so she calls her dad Pa. Apparently Lurlene doesn't understand the difference between West Virginia and the past. Pa was so upset when the testing/treatment of Sandy hurt her so much that he nearly took her out of the hospital! Man, parents are so frickin' dumb in the Lurleneverse. I mean, it would totes suck to see your kid hurting, but GEEZ.
So a psychiatrist comes by to teach Dawn Rochelle imaging techniques, but at first she is not hip to that!:
A shrink! Dawn thought. I'm not crazy. I don't need a head doctor!Maybe it's just all my hours logged with trusted mental health professionals, but if I'd just gotten diagnosed with a potentially-fatal illness and a psychiatrist wandered in, I think I'd grasp the notion that they just might be there to help me deal with that. Oh, Dawn Rochelle!
Since Dawn Rochelle is totes into teddy bears, she imagines an army of them fighting off the cancer cells. I approve of this imaging technique, Dawn Rochelle! Sounds cute.
Some of Dawn Rochelle's cheerleader friends come to visit. They are totes realistic, of course:
"Gee... cancer.... What a rotten deal!"Gee, you think?
After the cheerleaders go, Sandy and Dawn Rochelle bond over the fact that people from their "old life" no longer really understand them. It's interesting, in some of Lurlene's books, friends stick by and totally help the patient deal, and in some, they're totes isolated. Generally, this has to do with whoever Lurlene wants us to root for to help our protag learn something important. Or something. I'm sure a lot of times kids' friends can't deal with someone they know having cancer. Man, that'd suck! Poor Dawn Rochelle. Anyways, the girls get to talkin' 'bout boys, as girls often do:
"He... he kissed me once," Sandy added in a soft whisper. "It was real sweet, like he really meant it."LIKE HE REALLY MEANT IT! What does that MEAN? Sandy, if I were there, I'd make you give me more details.
Sandy's parents come to visit, and of course they are written with painstaking cultural sensitivity. I hope you guys aren't from West Virginia!:
"How's my darlin'?" Mr. Chandler's voice boomed from the doorway of their hospital room. Sandy squealed with delight and flung her arms open to him.So here's the thing. I've noticed in the majority of the Lurleneverse, men get ANGRY about their kids' illnesses. Like, I'm not saying fathers don't. But mothers do too. And fathers cry and fall into denial, just like mothers. Except in the Lurleneverse! Fathers just get angry and do things like SHAKE WITH ANGER, and girls have to lie to their fathers and brothers about how much stuff hurts so they don't tear apart medical professionals. Ugh. I hate all sexism, but especially when it comes from ladies. Knock it off, ladies!
"Sandy's told me about you," he told Dawn, who openly stared at him. [Nice, D.R., nice.] "My, my, you're hardly bigger than a June bug," he said, his accent causing her to smile shyly.
He eyed both of the girls critically. "They feedin' you girls proper? Neither of you look like you've had a decent meal in a month of Sundays."
. . .
His lips pressed together. Dawn got the feeling that under his cheerful words [How cheerful was that shit about a month of Sundays?] and broad smile, Mr. Chandler was very angry about Sandy being sick.
To get herself through the side effects of her chemo, Dawn Rochelle keeps telling herself, "the drugs are my friends!" Oh noes, will chemo be a gateway drug to, like, heroin? Be careful, Dawn Rochelle!!
You guys, seriously, I just cannot get over this prose:
How cruel it was to go bald at thirteen! How awful it was to be sick all the time from the effects of the chemotheraphy! How terrible it was to be tired and depressed, have sores in your mouth, bruises all over your body and to be so thin you could count your own ribs!Sandy achieves remission (go Sandy!) so Dawn Rochelle's all alone and without her new BFF. Sadness! Isn't leukemia shitty enough? Luckily, it doesn't take much longer for Dawn Rochelle to achieve remission as well! Hmmm, does it synch up like your and your roommate's periods?
"I'm really going home!" To herself, she added, "Ready or not, World, here I come!"Please tell me A) if there are any kids who really say shit like this, and B) why the hell world is capitalized!
Dawn Rochelle and Sandy go off to cancer camp together, woo hoo! The camp puts on a little show about the history of the land and lake, where "Indians" row across in a canoe. Um, Lurlene, didn't you get the memo? Native Americans. Say it with me. Thanks.
Of course there are hot boys at the camp; it wouldn't be camp without 'em!
Dawn kept noticing the way the two boys kept looking at her and Sandy. It made her feel feminine and exciting.Feminine AND exciting, you guys.
The boys are named Mike and Greg. Greg is totes into Dawn Rochelle, while Mike is into Sandy. It's always good when that works out. Mike had bone cancer, so he is missing a leg, and he's all embarrassed about swimmin'! Luckily Sandy sets him straight. Aw, man, seriously, Mike, if you don't feel comfortable swimming with one leg at a cancer camp, you're going to need a lot of therapy! Poor Mike.
According to Dawn Rochelle:
Greg Buchannan became friend, beau, and big brother to Dawn. Mike became the same to Sandy.WHAT IS WITH THIS BROTHER/BOYFRIEND CROSSOVER RELATIONSHIP? I am seriously so uncomfortable. I have never, ever dated a dude I would have ALSO considered an older brother. GROSS. Seriously, does Lurlene think this is normal? I'm all wigged out.
Dawn Rochelle goes home from camp, and even starts school in the fall! Go D.R.! Of course it's weird and awkward, and then because life doesn't suck enough as it is, she gets a letter from Sandy letting her know she's had a relapse. Aw, poor Sandy! Of course her daddy is a mess, and wants to take her to some clinic in Mexico. Another letter arrives soon, letting Dawn Rochelle know Sandy indeed IS in Mexico. Want to hear about her Mexican doctor? Who's got their money on him not being a cliche?:
My doctor is Dr. Sanchez. He's a nice little man with a mustache. His accent is soft and cute. [Cute??] I think his clinic is real nice, too. It's light and airy with red tiles and murals all over the place. There's a real nice garden with fountains, cactus and strange looking trees.Do you guys think Sandy's dad actually took her to Mexico or Chevy's FreshMex?
Before long, Dawn Rochelle gets a telegram from Sandy's parents. Sandy died! Stop. I guess Mexico and West Virginia don't have phones! Stop.
Then the cute boy is nice to Dawn Rochelle at school, and life is somewhat better. I'd laugh, but when you're in junior high, attention from a cute boy can lift your spirits really high. Oh, hell, what am I talking about? It'd still lift my spirits damn high!
So that's the book. Yeah! That's it! You want to know the best thing about this whole book? AT NO TIME DOES ANYONE TELL DAWN ROCHELLE SHE HAS SIX MONTHS TO LIVE! Why is it the title?
Also, from that interview I just posted about:
BP: One of your books, Six Months to Live, has been placed in a time capsule at the Library of Congress, to be opened in the year 2089. How did that come about?
LM: That book got put in the time capsule because it was nominated by children from all over the country. Pizza Hut sponsors a reading program: Reading is Funda-mental. This particular year, they invited children to nominate their favorite books and write an essay why. They were going to take the top letter from each state and put it in the time capsule. They notified me that Six Months had been the most nominated book in the competition. It had won in three states. The grand prize letter was from South Carolina.
BP: Why that title versus any of your others?
LM: I've often wondered what is behind the phenomenon of this book as opposed to other books. It's one of the first serious books they run across after they've exceeded the Babysitter's Club. They're walking through the book fair and see Six Months to Live. It's a great title, you gotta admit. They just are mesmerized that a 13-year-old girl who is normal, just like them, could get leukemia.
I'd hate on the title a lot less IF IT WERE EVEN TRUE.There are four more books in the Dawn Rochelle series, so we all know what that means! RELAPSES AHOY!