Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm sorry, 2089, or Six Months to Live

ETA: Thanks to a comment from Courtney, I did a little digging and found out this book was actually published in 1985, not 1995, which must have been the date of one of the reissues. It is bizarrely difficult tracking down publication dates to these books, believe it or not!

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.

"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.
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!

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!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An old Lurlene interview

I ran across this interview with Lurlene from 2000 which is sort of illuminating. Like, I know I am super eager for more evidence that Sean is the favored son, so it made me kind of giddy that she mentions Eric by saying "Sean had a brother"! Oh, Sean, your diabetes made you so, so, so special!

Also interesting:
BP: Do you have a teenager that you use as a sounding board?
LM: Oh, I wish. Sean had a brother, Eric, who's a youth pastor in Alabama. I can be around kids if I need to be.
Then be around them MORE, Lurlene. I mean, okay, I know there are lots of people who write Y.A. lit who don't exactly spend their entire lives with teens, but I think it's especially important the further you get out of that age bracket to really prioritize that. I know the amazing Judy Blume won't write Y.A. anymore because she doesn't think she has anything left to say to teens. While that saddens me, knowing how many lives she touches with her Y.A. catalog, I really respect her for knowing that. Understand teens and be relevant to them, or stick with another genre. It's just essential.

BP: Do you write with an audience or gender in mind?
LM: I have always been amazed guys read these books and seem to enjoy them. Because I've raised boys, I like to think I can get inside a guy's mind. I try and make the boys talk like guys, sound like guys and react like guys. [Characters] say, "Well, you know, she's got cystic fibrosis, and that grosses me out." You've got to be realistic.
"Realistic", seriously? I mean, I will not deny the popularity of these books, but the dialogue is so crazily inaccurate; I genuinely don't know any kids who talk like they do in the Lurleneverse. Even when she nails the emotions, she rarely nails anything further.
BP: A poll taken by Book magazine lists both female and male teens' favorite authors. Your name was fourth for females and fifth for males. This must be immensely gratifying.
LM: That blew me away. I am very privileged and honored when someone chooses to read a book, especially a book of mine.
Listen, I am the last person to rattle on about gender differences, but even taking the position that most have to do with societal constructs, it sort of shocks me that dudes would list Lurlene as a favorite author. Right?

She talks a bit about Six Months to Live, but that's the next book I'm recapping, so I'll save my comments on that for the forthcoming recap.

Lurlene goes off on a tangent about teen suicide:
BP: Great. You know, many consider your works inspirational.
LM: Well, thank you. That's the goal I go for. You know not every book has to have a happy ending, but it has to have a satisfying ending. I like to tell young people -- you know one in four children die by their own hands -- no matter how bad things seem, just wait a day, wait a week. Life will turn around. I have known some magnificent young people who died very young but had wonderful lives and inspired many people by their short existence.
Do you guys think the one in four statistic is accurate? I know that, sadly, lots of kids DO kill themselves, but one in four? I only have one distant relative who did, and given that I've known hundreds of kids over my lifetime, I either have a statistically abnormally happy group of acquaintances, or Lurlene's full of crap.

(That said, her advice is pretty good.)

Interesting that Lurlene battled breast cancer; she's lucky she doesn't live in her own universe, because she is still alive today! That never, ever would have happened if she wrote a book about herself!

Monday, March 24, 2008

An angels trilogy conclusion does not actually require any angels, or Until Angels Close My Eyes

We arrive at last to the not-thrilling conclusion to the Amish/angels trilogy, Until Angels Close My Eyes (published 1999). I've got a feeling SOMEONE's goin' down this time. I certainly didn't suspect it with the last installment, most especially not Rebekah, well, okay, not until she talked about a visit from the way-too-literal angel, but this time I feel it in my bones. Let's hope that's not a symptom!

Our friendly marketing department wants you to know this about the book:
When Neil, Leah's warm and loving step-father, reveals that his cancer is no longer in remission, Leah finds comfort in a visit to Amish country to see her true love, Ethan. When Ethan chooses to leave his life on the farm, he moves in with Leah and her family. But once Ethan arrives, they realize that his Amish values are quite different from those of Leah's complex "English" world. Will their love help, or hurt, Leah as she faces the complex hurdles that await her?
If you guys are HOLY HELL SHOCKED about Neil's cancer, well, you aren't alone! But be patient, my loves, I'm getting there. First, let's look at the beautiful cover:

Leah's pretty! Ethan's still in his sort of Amish, sort of English clothes. But don't worry, you guys, there's a buggy in the background, so you won't get confused as to what kind of story this is.

Also, doesn't this sort of look like a Little Golden Book with that weird ass border on the left side?

I really wish I could promise you guys this book would be as entertaining and intelligent and moving as just THE COVER of the Shy Little Kitten is, but I don't feel right misleading the public.

Again, nowadays this book is part of a prepackaged trilogy:

So the beginning of this book is like a friggin' trainwreck in progress. I know Lurlene has been going more and more for just starting a book right in the midst of things (Leah already in the hospital for her broken finger, for just one example), plus I know enough about basic book-writing to be aware that it generally is best to open on the action of an important event (i.e. why should this book begin this day of all days) but OH MY GOD LURLENE THIS IS NUTSO EVEN FOR YOU:
"Leah, we need to talk." [Yes, this is how the book opens!]

Leah Lewis-Hall flicked off the TV [back when I was in Catholic grade school, we said 'flicking off' instead of 'flipping off' so I just got an awesome mental picture involving television and Leah's extended middle finger] and gave her mother her full attention. "What's up?" She knew something was wrong. For days, her mother had seemed edgy and uncommunicative. Most unlike herself. Leah's mother usually had something to say about everything. When Leah had come home from school that day, the house had been empty and there had only been a terse note: Neil and I will be back before supper.

Her mother sat down on the edge of the sofa. "I'm sure you've noticed that things haven't been exactly normal around here lately." [Mmm, how I like a piping hot fresh cup of exposition so early on in a book!]

"Are you and Neil having problems?" Leah asked, fearing the worst.

. . .

"Yes, we're having problems," her mother said.
But she doesn't mean, like, marital problems. NEIL HAS CANCER. NEIL HAS HAD CANCER. WAIT WHAT? Neil had cancer long ago, before his first wife died. Also, you guys, Neil is really old! He's sixty-eight! This keeps getting hammered in, with talk of an age difference and the fact that he's a widower, and on and on. OKAY THIS IS THE THIRD BOOK SO WHY ARE WE JUST LEARNING OF NEIL'S AGE? Did Lurlene just realize she wanted to throw in this old age/cancer subplot so she turned Neil old?

Okay, you guys, I have a confession, and I might as well come clean about it right now. At the same time I was reading this book, I was reading the absolutely lovely Sweethearts by my current Y.A. hero Sara Zarr. This book also featured a really nice stepdad who moved a mother and daughter out of financial hardship to upper middle-class comfort. It also featured A BOYFRIEND NAMED ETHAN. Now, Zarr writes really beautiful prose, believable characters, refreshing and new plotlines. But YOU CAN SEE HOW I WOULD OCCASIONALLY GET A LITTLE CONFUSED. I feel like I owe Zarr ten boxes of her favorite candy to apologize for this, but it's the truth, and you guys know how super committed I am to the truth. Anyways, I am going to do my best to keep the two books straight! You guys just deserve the warning. Also, again, Sara Zarr, I am so, so very sorry. I promise I will never, ever again confuse one of your books with something in the Lurleneverse.

Anyway, back to Neil's cancer. He's in the friggin' hospital! It's really bad! Leah's PISSED OFF. I mean, worried, but PISSED OFF. Why, she wonders, didn't anyone ever tell her that her stepdad has battled the same disease she did? Why didn't he help prepare her for what she had to go through? Why was there such epic dishonesty? Oh, they kept MEANING to tell her, but there was just NEVER A GOOD TIME.


I totally do not believe Lurlene ever had any clue Neil was A) old or B) cancerous. Considering book two in the trilogy JUST SORT OF ENDED, I doubt she was all set to go on the third book's plot, outside of lots of YA romance crap between Leah and Amish-or-will-he-go-English Ethan and, you know, ANGELS. So then she was all "OH CRAP WHAT ELSE CAN THIS BOOK BE ABOUT" and spun her little Wheel of Lurleneverse, and it totes landed on SOMEONE (ELSE) HAS CANCER.

Leah and her mom go to visit Neil at the hospital. Guess what his doctor is named???

Dr. Howser!!! AWESOME.

So Neil asks for some time alone with Leah, and he tries to be all "NO IT'S TOTALLY OKAY I NEVER TOLD YOU ABOUT MY CANCER EVEN THOUGH YOU HAD CANCER TOO" but she's not having it. Seriously! This is so stupid I want to scream. Neil promises to be honest in the future.

Leah writes her Amish beau Ethan a letter about this news, and laments that IF ONLY HE WEREN'T AMISH because then she could just call, text, email, IM, Facebook 'poke', MySpace message, or tell him to check her LiveJournal for a filtered post. You guys, I would never survive dating the Amish.

Leah's back in school, and apparently her only friend is this girl named Sherry. Is Sherry cool and popular? Well, of course not:
Sherry was overweight, and therefore not on the social A-list.
OH MY GOD LURLENE HATES THE OVERWEIGHT. You know, I'm not saying popular cliques are chock-full of kids representing the entire body size spectrum, but there are usually one or two overweight kids who are super cool/popular/whatever for reasons that have nothing to do with maintaining a size 0 figure. Whatever, I know yelling at Lurlene for sizism is lame when there are so many worse offenders in the YA genre, I just think that "therefore" is a little inaccurate. I'm just glad Sherry's a nice girl and not always, like, written shoving food into her mouth.

So I like that the subject of dudes comes up, and Sherry asks if Leah has one, and she's all, "yeah, I do, but he's Amish, so it's totes complicated". I seriously hate how many books I've read where the protags won't cop up to their romantic lives for one reason or another, so it's refreshing that this is just a no-brainer to Leah. Of course, after getting through Neil's Big Cancer Deception, she's probably going through a big truth phase.

So Leah goes to hang out with Neil and her mother at the hospital, where two notable things occur. Firstly, THERE'S A WOMAN DOCTOR IN THE LURLENEVERSE. HURRAH! Secondly, Neil refers to Leah as his daughter, not his stepdaughter. This pleases her. It's pretty sweet. I like Neil, despite his rapid aging and plot-convenient cancer.

The doctor tells them there is evidence of cancer in Neil's liver, and Leah's mom is all I DON'T BELIEVE YOU FOOLS! which, just, oh my god, I get there's a stage of denial, but Leah's mom just seems more like an idiot. Neil is able to talk some sense into her, whew. We're so lucky to have Neil, you guys. FOR NOW.

Ethan writes back to Leah and lets her know how sorry he is. He is still dressing English on the weekends (that sounds like a euphemism, though for what I'm not sure). Also he adds this delightful P.S.:
P.S. Charity says that I am to tell you hello. Hello.

Neil comes home from the hospital, and will do chemo on an outpatient basis. I mean, I'm sure he's gonna be fine, you guys, right?

Leah and Sherry are talking about their respective boy problems (Amish, a jock asshole who hates the unpopular and overweight), when Sherry lets out this gem:
"If only boys thought like girls instead of boys."
Um WHAT? I mean, I get what she's saying, because there are so many girls whose friends see their beauty and whom guys don't seem to notice, but, trust me, Sherry, the boys who think more like girls when it comes to dating are really, really not going to be into you. (Though they will happily take you out to meet boys together.) I was just wondering if gay people even EXIST in the Lurleneverse, but then I remembered Brian's uncle WHO DIED. (Then again, Lurlene kills off enough heterosexual people I doubt she's making a statement there. Still, one gay character, one death, lookin' a little bad to me, Lurlene.)

So this dude that Sherry's into is described as having "hands as large as ham hocks". WHAT THE HELL IS WITH THE BIZARRE HAND METAPHORS?

Neil is doing okay with his chemo, but it's exhausting him, and he can't keep up with his collection of antique cars like he wants. He wants Leah to help him sell them, but she urges him to keep them. Aw, I would too, and not just because I'd totes be in complete denial (but not the stupid kind afflicting Leah's mom). Neil asks about Leah's college plans, and she's all, oh, pish posh, college, I don't really like school. Hey, what happened to being interested in nursing, Leah? This is such a badly-planned trilogy.

So I know this is a really middle-class view of mine, but considering that Leah easily falls into that in these books, and considering quite a few of Lurlene's heroines do, I think it's weird college is seen as something SOME people do. When I was in high school, everyone was pretty much expected to go to college unless they were, like, seriously academically-challenged (and even those kids were encouraged to go to community college or whatever). I think it's seriously badly-researched/imagined on Lurlene's behalf that college wouldn't be basically an automatic thought, most especially when she's dealing with kids of a certain class or above (which isn't to say I think college should be limited to certain classes, I just know it's sort of ridiculous to paint the image of wealthy ol' Neil and all of his cars, and yet Leah without a thought in the world about college).

Leah is reflecting back on her other stepfathers, and how friggin' awesome Neil is:
She'd never had a stepfather like Neil. The others had been imitations, men who had been indifferent to her - or worse, overly friendly.
AND THEN THAT IS DROPPED. WHAT WHAT WHAT. "Overly friendly"? Was Leah, like, molested? Was there just inappropriate, like, leering? How can you just throw something like that in and never get to it again? That is kind of a big fucking deal, Lurlene! Seriously, I know I've mocked every one of Lurlene's books I've read so far, but this book is sooo poorly-written I'm just kind of blown away. The prose itself is fine, nothing special, but in general not cringe-worthy, but the fact that this book seems to have been entirely conceived long after the first two were written is sort of troublesome. Use a fucking outline, Lurlene.

So of course Leah's missin' her man soooo much, so she decides to spend the week after Christmas with Kathy in Nappanee. Considering Neil's health, I'm sort of surprised her mom just lets her go, but she does, and YAY ETHAN. Or something. These kids are mighty happy to see each other, but there have been a lot of changes for Ethan. He got his drivers license! And now he lives in Football Hands's party apartment. Leah also learns that Charity is so pissed off about Football Hands's rumspringa doings that she won't date him any longer. Charity, you were the one so eager for an, albeit, temporary English makeover, but, whatever. I'm just glad she's come to her senses about him.

Leah and Ethan attend an Amish-acting-English party while she's there, and Ethan confides in her that he wants her help to track down his shunned brother Eli. Wait, this clarifies that since Eli was never technically baptized, he isn't technically being shunned. So basically, him and his family are just assholes. Leah agrees to help, and says they'll go to Neil, because Neil knows how to do everything. You know, I really like Neil, and I like the relationship between Leah and Neil, but I'm not crazy about how Leah and her mom were totes helpless before the big, strong, rich man came along and made them a proper family, or how Leah goes to Neil for basically everything now. Couldn't there be anything Leah's mom is good at, besides saying dumbass things to medical professionals? Whatever, I'm wanting way too much out of the Lurleneverse.

So of course Leah doesn't want to leave, and Ethan doesn't want her to, but obviously she has to. So Leah comes up with the genius idea that Ethan can come back with her and stay in her basement for awhile. Someone's been watching too much Roseanne! Ethan agrees, and they go to tell his parents. His father's reaction involves a description of his big hands which, seriously, WTF is up with all the big hands in this series? His mother offers up this advice:
"Remember the words of our Lord," she said. "'You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?'"
I know it's a metaphor, and it's from the bible, but, please, salt CANNOT lose its saltiness, okay? It is saltiness embodied! I mean... it's SALT. Way to choose a weird passage, Ethan's mom.

Finally they leave right away for Leah's. When they arrive, the power's out, so of course Ethan's all YEAH IT DOESN'T BOTHER ME YOU CRAZY ENGLISH PERSON I DON'T NEED NO STINKING ELECTRICITY.

How do they keep warm?
"We can do as the Amish do," Ethan said. "We can bundle."

"How do we bundle?"

"It's an old Amish custom, not always approved of by parents and elders. But when dating, a boy and his girl will lie in bed together. They do not remove their clothes, but they spend the night in each other's arms."

Leah's jaw dropped. "This is an Amish custom?"

"Sex without marriage is forbidden," Ethan quickly added.

"I'd guess so. But--wow--doesn't bundling sort of invite trouble?"

Ethan chuckled. "Winters are long and very cold. Amish couples do it to keep warm."
Yeeeeaahhh, I'm sure they do. You know what else keeps you warm, and doesn't require any electricity unless you've got some specific fetishes?

Finally the power comes back on, and Leah and Ethan have New Year's with lots of TV and junk food. Sound ideal! Leah's mom and Neil arrive home to find them asleep in front of the TV and are TOTES PISSED. They assume the kids were doin' it and... got dressed and fell asleep... in the living room... with a bunch of junk food? Also, um, if you guys are that freaked about the possibility of Leah having sex, WHY DID YOU LET HER RENT AN APARTMENT ALONE FOR THE WHOLE SUMMER FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF BEING NEAR HER BOYFRIEND?

Are you guys sick of me pointing out what a shoddily-written trilogy this is yet? Because this is a really shoddily-written trilogy.

Luckily Neil steps in (YAY NEIL ALL-POWERFUL MAN CREATURE) and believes Leah and gets Leah's mom to believe her too. Ethan gets to stay and help around the house. He's put in charge with taking care of Neil's prized cars, so that Neil can keep them but in the condition they deserve.

Leah tells her mom she's helping Ethan find his brother because she too knows what it's like lack for a family. Her mom's all "I WAS your family!" and Leah actually says, "You worked." OH MY GOD. NO, LEAH, NO, THAT IS SO NOT OKAY TO SAY. YOUR MOM LOVED YOU AND WANTED THE BEST FOR YOU AND GUESS WHAT NONE OF THAT IS FUCKING FREE.

So Ethan gets a part-time job with the local vet, because he is so good with animals and loves them so much (first I'm hearing of it, but fine). He's really settling into this English lifestyle, and Leah's fam loves him! But that's the only good thing goin' for Leah's family; Neil's cancer is back! It's worse! OH NOES! Neil tells her she'll have to take care of her mother, who'll be in denial (SHOCKING I KNOW), and then goes on to tell her the whole reason her mother left her father is that her father suffered from paranoia and was dangerous!! Her beloved grandmother thought her mom was totes wrong and tried to sue for custody! That's why there was all that pesky estrangement! Leah's mind is BLOWN. Goddammit, doesn't anyone in this family ever talk to each other? Good thing Neil is around.

Leah confronts her mother, and learns her mother kept marrying richer and richer men to improve their station in life. And she's all "Oh, okay then!" WHAT? So you totes disrespect her for WORKING, but marrying for money is cool? This is pretty fucked up stuff.

(By the way, randomly, Lurlene refers to gossip at school as "scuttlebutt". PLEASE TELL ME ONE HIGH-SCHOOLER YOUNGER THAN ONE-HUNDRED WHO HAS EVER SAID THIS.)

Neil tracked down Eli! Of course he did; Neil can do anything. It was really difficult because Eli changed his name to Elias. Oh, yeah, that'd complicate things. Seriously, there is no mention of the internet in this book, and since it was written in 1999, that's wicked stupid. Lurlene, you are frustrating me somethin' fierce.

Ethan and Leah go to visit Eli/as, and the boys are totes thrilled to see each other. Eli/as has a wife, Camille, who's a Mennonite, a fact Ethan knows would piss off his parents. THOSE HEATHEN RULE-BENDING MENNONITES. Eli/as and Camille have two sons, Timmy and Jason. Eli/as is soooo over being Amish, but Ethan urges him to at least visit the fam again, since he was not OFFICIALLY shunned. Eli/as isn't up for it. But Eli/as urges Leah to go to college, and Leah urges him to talk to his family, and they both promise to consider the other's POV. Okay then!

When Leah and Ethan arrive home, they find a note that Neil is in the hospital. OH NOES. Though does anyone have a cell phone in the Lurleneverse? If my daughter drove around as much as Leah does AND HAD ONCE HAD CANCER I'd give her a fucking cell phone. Also think of all the fun Lurlene could have had making Ethan amazed at the technology of a cell phone!

So Neil is going to die. Oh DAMN. Despite him being, like, proof that every family needs a man to make it count, I actually like Neil. After he dies, Leah says, "I love you, Neil," then realizes that name isn't "enough" and calls him Daddy. It's sweet, except there's nothing lacking about, ya know, calling someone Neil v. Daddy. Right? I dunno. It's not like Leah's mom calls him some special love-name instead of Neil, right? Why am I getting hung up on this, it's such a nice moment! I guess I just think stepparents can be just as loved as parents, and you don't have to say they've moved on from being "just" a stepparent to get that kind of love. Well, you know, outside of the Lurleneverse.

Leah finds out Neil left all his cars to her with instructions to sell them so she can go to college. Neil, that's pretty awesome of you. Aren't you shocked, Neil, that Gabriella didn't show up to usher you into heaven? I mean, it happened to Rebekah, and also this is a friggin' ANGELS TRILOGY with NO SIGN OF AN ANGEL IN THE CONCLUSIVE VOLUME YET. You guyyyys, this is such sloppy writing.

Leah is anxious to share her news with Ethan, but when she finds him... HE'S DRESSED AMISH. Oh man! You can take the boy out of Nappanee, but you can't take the Nappanee out of the boy. He promises her she was not part of his fling, but part of his life, and says she'll be in his heart "until angels close [his] eyes". WHAT? THAT IS ALL THE ANGELNESS WE'RE GETTING IN THIS BOOK? There is a fucking DEATH and yet this is IT? Lurlene, geez, this is pathetic. I had no clue I could still find it within my heart to be disappointed in you.

Except... the book ends with Leah realizing her and her mom ARE a family, just the two of them. FINALLY LEAH! FUCKING FINALLY! It took you long enough, and was not exactly the kind of conclusion this book called for since, you know, THERE WEREN'T ANY GODDAMN ANGELS.

I'm just shocked a heroine in the Lurleneverse WHO HAD CANCER made it through three books alive. Hooray for very, very small miracles.

No pun intended.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lurlene Quizzes

I hope to have the conclusion to the Amish trilogy up early next week, but I think I should probably devote this weekend to working on my own book, which is probably wondering if it should catch the cancer to get my attention. (Dear beloved book, no you shouldn't, xoxoxoAmes)

So in the meanwhile, please amuse yourself with these Lurlene quizzes I found! I am ashamed to say that even though I feel like I'm more of a thorough skimmer of Lurlene books than attentive reader (don't hate on me for the truth!) I somehow managed to get one hundred percent on the Amish/angels quiz. Imagine all the valuable information my brain has been depleted of to remember this trivia, and cry for me.

If you're not too proud (see what I did there??) do share your scores in the comments!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Barely saved by the makeover scene, or Lifted Up By Angels

Let's tackle the second book in the angels/Amish trilogy, Lifted Up By Angels (published 1997), because for some reason Lurlene thought we didn't have enough the first go around.

Do you want to know what it's about? Yay, because I would like to tell you!:
This inspirational novel follows the story of Leah and her friendship with the Amish family she met while hospitalized for cancer treatment. When Leah takes a summer job near their Amish community, she is happy to be near Ethan again. He is now at the age at which an Amish young man is allowed a taste of non-Amish life before committing to the adults' rules. Will Leah and Ethan's feelings for each other overcome family obligations?
Before you guys get all enthused about rumspringa, this is kind of a faux rumspringa. Just lettin' ya know!

What does the cover look like? Is it lovely? Will it draw you in? Wait no longer to find out!:

Ethan doesn't really look Amish, does he? Oh, maybe this is when he's EXPERIMENTING with CRAZY ENGLISH WAYS... except in that part of the book (SORRY TO SPOIL YOU GUYS) he's all into T-shirts and shit. So basically I deem this cover MISREPRESENTATIVE!

Now, of course, the book is published in a thick-ass trilogy:

Again, boring, but at least Amish-y!


So Leah's all off to have her own apartment, work as a maid at a hotel, and all so she can be near her Amish friends. She turned down traveling with the fam to Hawaii and Fiji for this, which, sorry, to me sounds way better than a crappy job and Amish-adjacency. Then again, I never fell for an Amish hottie, so it's a tough call.

Nappanee, Indiana, is a real place where there are real Amish people! You guys, it's true, I looked it up on Wikipedia! So I'm giving you a point, Lurlene, for accuracy. I dole out my points very sparingly where you're concerned, Lurlene, so consider yourself very, very lucky.

So Leah rolls into town in her hot convertible, and goes off to visit her Amish peeps right away. Charity's thrilllllllled to see her, as is darling Rebekah. Oh man, I love Rebekah, she's the cutest. It's awesome that spider didn't kill her last time around! Since Rebekah lives on a farm and everything, wouldn't it have been cool if the spider was like Charlotte (of the Web), and gave her advice on how to win some kind of competition and also how to save her own life? NOT TO SPOIL ANYTHING FOR YOU GUYS!

Of course the second Leah glimpses Ethan, her heart and her loins are all "OH YEAHHHH" and she knows the whole friggin' reason she's there is for him, which, uhhh, couldn't any of us have told her this? Do you have any friends, Leah? Friends that aren't angels or Amish? I think it could be a good thing to perhaps DISCUSS this stuff.

By the way, Amish boys say some pretty hot stuff:
His brow knitted. His startling blue eyes stared directly into hers. "My eyes have been hungry for the sight of you."
Holy HELL I'd be gone. Swooooon.

So Leah meets Ethan's whole fam, including the grandparents. None of the adults except Ethan's mom seem too wild about her, but, whatev, she's near Ethan, she's happy. Still, she goes to Charity and is all "WHYYYY DO THEY ALL HAAAAAATE ME?" and Charity explains that A) the Amish aren't into "idle chatter" which basically means I'd never survive a moment without severely testing the pacifist nature of the Amish with my jibber-jabbering ways, and B) Ethan is not baptized yet, which confuses me because they go into the whole "WHEN YOU'RE SIXTEEN YOU CAN GO WIIIIIIIIIIIIILD" but, wait, Ethan's seventeen, so... is that okay? Oh, all right, whatever. Basically Ethan's dad's concerned since he hasn't totes committed to Amishness yet, and a hot English girl like Leah could obvs lead him astray.

Leah gets a little concerned maybe she's just something exotic for Ethan to sample while he's livin' the wild life, which I was kind of shocked by. I mean, that's totally what I would be worried about in her shoes, so, again, REALISM IN THE LURLENEVERSE?! The world's FLIPPED, people, FLIPPED.

So, totally random, Leah is out driving and RUNS INTO ETHAN'S YOUNGER BROTHER SIMEON. WTF! She just KNOCKS INTO HIM WITH HER FUCKING CAR! He's on skates! WHAT???? He has a job delivering packages. Oh, ALL RIGHT! Anyway, he's fine, and he's not going to wear pads or a helmet because those things are for "showy, not plain" people. Yeah, showy that you have a freaking BRAIN. Without a helmet, it's more like, MY BRAIN: LET ME SHOW YOU IT.

So Leah takes Simeon back to work (ummm after getting hit by a car I don't think I'd be all LET ME SKATE OFF TO DELIVER MORE PACKAGES) and Ethan comes with, and after dropping Simeon off, Leah offers to show Ethan her apartment. BOOM CHICKA WOW WOW. (Is that right, for porno music? I've never typed out porno music before!) Ethan gets all embarrassed because he sees Leah's underwear strewn about, that wanton slut! Anyways, they talk about the barn dance coming up, and Leah's all concerned because Martha, this Amish girl that Ethan once took home in his buggy (for serious, you guys, that isn't a euphemism) is going to be there, and she's all jeaaaa!loussss! Dude, I'd be too. You know the Amish and their buggies!!

The kids at the barn dance are all Amish, except for Leah, though some are totes going through AMISH GONE WILD!! so they're in English clothes and drinking beers and listening to "funky music", white boy.

No one's very welcoming to Leah, including this dude Jonah, who is Martha's brother and has "hands the size of footballs" which is basically the weirdest descriptor I've ever heard. Like, doesn't that put the weirdest picture in your head? Anyway, Football Hands is all "YOU HOLD YOURSELF SEPARATE AND PROUD" to Ethan, which, dude, just STFU. You're the one at a fucking BARN DANCE so I don't know why your crappy English clothes and beer-drinking makes you so special!

So Leah starts her crap maid job with this girl named Kathy Kelly, who is always talkin' shit about the Amish, and how they're all separate and cliquish and, shut up, Kathy Kelly, I don't like you either.

After an exhausting day at work, Leah heads over to the Amish house, where THE CUTEST THING HAPPENS. Rebekah gives Leah a baby chick she promises to take care of for her. Oh my god, you guys, if an adorable little Amish girl gave me a baby chick and raised it for me, I would melt away in a pile of dead-from-cuteness. Rebekah is totes my favorite character.

Uh-oh! Rebekah tells Leah that Gabriella told her she'd see Rebekah again. Uh, Rebekah, I know you like Gabriella and all, but if that isn't a death sentence I don't know what is.

Double uh-oh! When Leah's driving back later and stops for gas, she runs into Football Hands! I friggin' hate you, dude. He's all BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH, DO NOT LEAD THE AMISH ASTRAY! Ugh, shut up. Can you guys believe Charity's been in his buggy? Gross. I wouldn't want to be touched with football hands!

Ethan shows up at Leah's place bright and early Sunday morning, and she's all, fool, we don't all keep FARMING HOURS, but, please, she's got the hottie at her place, she's not complaining too much. Ethan changes into English-style clothes but isn't quite ready to get his Amish locks styled.

Ethan wants to watch movies, so watch movies they do. Leah notices Ethan doesn't get verbal humor, just laughs at pratfalls and such, and that would be a big turnoff for me, but whatevs for Leah. She's got Amish fever!

After all that movie-watchin', they head to The Rink; yes, Lurlene capitalizes "The" just like that. It's a roller rink and game room! Also you can eat there. Honestly, I would go there in a heartbeat; rollerskating's a damn good time. Anyways, outside, this is amazing:
She drove into a parking lot filled with cars and Amish buggies. Several of the buggies looked less than plain. They bore tassels and reflective tape cut in fancy designs. The harnesses were studded with ornamentations. Even the horses looked fancy.

I totes picture them like this:

Or, in keeping with these modern times, maybe they look like this:

I would basically give up everything in my life to see either of these horses pullin' an Amish buggy.

So Martha's there and obviously wants Ethan back, but is still welcoming to Leah after she realizes they're together. Go Martha! I'm glad you weren't afflicted with football hands. Leah bitches to Ethan about what a loser Football Hands is, and Ethan's all, whatever, once he's done with his fling he'll be back to another day living in Amish paradise. Leah asks if anyone ever doesn't return to their Amish ways, and Ethan blushes ten zillion shades of red and is all YES. Duuu-huuuude! Tell us more, Ethan! But, alas, he's all mum's the word! Methinks this will be important later.

Leah and Ethan take a trip to the bustling metropolis of Indianapolis for Leah's oncology checkup. One of her knees has been giving her a lot of trouble, which, uh, Leah, you're in the Lurleneverse, you are soooo screwed. At least she gets to say hey to Molly, who is still as nice as a person can possibly be even though they once told you you're just like their sister who died from a disease related to the one afflicting you. Thanks, Molly! Molly wants to get her sister's diary published as a book to give kids with diseases hope. First of all, this is such a friggin' Mary Sue moment for Lurlene, who's gotta be patting herself on the back so hard right now she's got suspicious bruises, and also, uh, HOPE HOW? YOUR SISTER DIED YOU DUMMY. I guess she had a great attitude? I'd rather have a craptastic attitude and not be dead, but that's just me.

Leah has fond memories of Gabriella while at the hospital:
She fingered the bindings, half expecting to see some reminder of Gabriella. There was none. Nothing at all to reflect that strange and wonderful night when the woman had come into her room, talked to her and touched her.
Whoa! She DOES sound like a heavenly creature, now that you mention it, Leah.

Believe it or not, Leah's aching knee is just inflammation from working so hard. OH MY GOD HER CANCER IS NOT BACK! I mean, I know there are three books in this series and she's most likely gonna die eventually, but, WHOA. I am pretty shocked.

After that round of good news, they head to the mall, where Ethan is all super judgmental about all the stuff stores sell. He totes flips out over this bikini, which irks me, because he's all I WOULD NOT WANT YOU TO WEAR SUCH A THING LEAH and she knows it's wrong for him to act that way but she's also kind of "oh, you're so cute", and, uh, no. The thing is, though, he knows he shouldn't feel that way, so, well, okay, FINE, I still can't hate on you, Ethan. You make my job tough!

Leah buys Rebekah a little wind-up chick, and tells Ethan she'll like it because girls likes things that are cute and small. I am not down with gender stereotypes, but once a good friend of mine told me he believed that girls would like anything that was a miniature version of something else, no matter how mundane or uncute the original item was, and I have to say this is often true.

Ethan gets his Amish locks cut in an English style, so of course he's hotter than ever. Leah knows his dad will be angry, and asks why his dad is so weird about Ethan hanging out with her. Ethan's all "HE HAS HIS REASONS". DUM DUM DUUMMMMMM. But then when she drops him off, he gives her a little porcelain bunny, based on Leah's comment that girls like stuff that is small and cute. Aw, Ethan, that is awfully sweet. Guys, I'm so glad I didn't read this when I was younger, talk about wayyyy unrealistic standards for real boys to live up to.

So there's this co-ed Amish camp-out coming up. Ethan asks Leah, and even though she doesn't want to go because stupid Football Hands is gonna be there, she agrees because it'll be nice to be there with Ethan, and also because Charity can only goes if he goes, and he only wants to go if Leah does. What the hell is this, the Taming of the Shrew? Charity asks if Leah will help give her an English makeover for the event, and she agrees. Oh man, you guys, imagine how good that scene would be if this was a movie!!! I love a good makeover scene in a movie, and my favorite episode each cycle of America's Next Top Model is the makeover episode (especially if anyone cries due to short/shaved hair). An AMISH makeover scene? That would be the BEST EVER.

So there's some carnival coming up, and Kathy's all Grumpy McBitchface because the tourists all come and stare at the Amish, and also she hates the Amish, so basically she hates everyone. She goes off on this HUGE tangent about sometimes the tourists drive badly and RUN INTO THE AMISH so of course we all know that's gonna happen to SOMEONE now, right??

CARNIVAL TIME! MAKEOVER SCENE! Goddamn Football Hands is there, of course, and he's all "I LIKE WHAT I SEE" to Charity which is basically just creepy, right? Of course it is. He's gonna paw her to death with those pigskins. I hate you, Football Hands. He gets super drunk at the camp-out which is held immediately after the carnival, and starts yelling at Ethan to drink beer with him. Ethan refuses, and Football Hands is all "ELI WOULD HAVE DRUNK BEER WITH ME" and so of course Leah wants to know who Eli is!

Of course we all saw this coming, right? Eli is Ethan's older brother, who got himself all edumacated, and therefore SHUNNED FROM AMISH SOCIETY. When he left, he told Ethan since he's the next in line that he can therefore NOT leave Amish society or it'll totes kill their dad. Oh MAN Eli, that's way too much to dump on a person.

So a few days later, Leah's driving through town when she notices police cars and ambulances near the Amish produce stand. OH YOU GUYS I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN! Of course it's Rebekah who was hit!!! OH MAN. Rebekah is in a friggin' COMA you guys!! Believe it or not, Lurlene doesn't go nutso with medical terminology, but she does KILL OFF REBEKAH, the cutest fictional girl in the Lurleneverse. You guys, it's so unfair! Why does Simeon, who, let's be honest, we don't even care about, get hit by a car and then go right back to work while sweet chicken-tending Rebekah diiiies? The Lurleneverse is so unfair.

At the funeral Leah sees Gabriella walking off with Rebekah, who is waving a handkerchief. Leah tells Ethan's family, and they all think she's batshit until Ethan's grandma is all OMG I TOTES PUT A HANDKERCHIEF IN HER HAND AT THE FUNERAL so now they know it's true. ??? All right, sure.

So Leah's mom and stepdad show up to help her come home, as the summer is ending, and Ethan's all WE WILL BE TOGETHER, though Leah wonders how. And that is how the book freaking ends. I have no idea what this book was even about. I mean, okay, fine, I just told you guys what the book was about, but there was no real story arc, it was just kind of a bunch of Amishness with OF COURSE A DEATH THROWN IN and the freaking ANGEL and then it's just OVER? I don't know what the lessons are, I don't know what we were supposed to get from any of this other than that Ethan is the hottest and most tragic boy in the Lurleneverse who doesn't have his own disease/injury, that angels are real, and that if you're not important to the story you can skate right away from a car accident.

I don't want to spoil you guys, but I read the first few pages of the conclusion to the trilogy, and it was so outrageous I laughed and laughed and got super excited about sharing it with you. You will NOT be disappointed.

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.


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.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Beautiful Photo Essay

In searching for an image for an upcoming recap, I stumbled upon what basically amounts to a photo essay of Lurlene! The essay starts with Lurlene as a young child with her parents and brother:

Lurlene and her brother were total hotties!:

Lurlene visits, for some reason, a Moroccan rug room:

Lurlene's got a snazzy office, of course:

Also, the McDaniel boys managed to marry total hotties. I wonder if they won them over with the kind of dialogue boys love spewin' in the pages of their mom's books?

Be sure to check out the whole thing!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sex or success, take your pick, or Too Young to Die

Too Young to Die (published 1989) was one of the Lurlene books I read early on in my Lurlene obsession. I have really vivid memories of reading this one (and its sequel I haven't tracked down yet, but hopefully I'll be reviewing it soon) at my parents' restaurant and loving it SO MUCH. This is always a huge warning sign; apparently young Ames was not to be trusted.

I do think this was Lurlene's first real attempt at writing a cancer book, and the reason I picked this one up in the first place this time around was that I'd just started the first Dawn Rochelle book, and I was all "OH MAN I HAVE SEEN THIS ALL BEFORE" so I figured I'd just go back to the beginning and take it from there. I mean, Dawn Rochelle can wait, right? The girl's got five books; I doubt she's going anywhere.

So, right, Too Young to Die. I scoured the web high and low, but I couldn't find the edition I grew up with. So here's what we've got to work with:

The book spends a lot of time telling us how pretty our protag, Melissa, is, so it's kind of sad they just put a really nondescript girl on the cover. If you want me to buy ravishing beauty, cover designer, you've got to GIVE ME ravishing beauty. Then again, you want me to think the hunky dude is, well, a hunk, and this guy's, like, hey, I just got my first job, and it's CASUAL FRIDAY!

UPDATED: the lovely and talented snappleaddict scanned me the cover I'd been searching for!:

Wow, could he be giving her a creepier look? As you'll soon see, no matter if this guy is supposed to be the boyfriend or the brother, that's pretty damn accurate.

Oh, right, do you guys want to know what the publishers want us to THINK this book is about? Here we go!:
At sixteen, Melissa Austin has always worked hard to make things go her way. As the school year begins, her grades are up and she's even landed a coveted spot on the high school Brain Bowl team. She and her best friend, Jory Delaney, are determined to have the best junior year ever.

But suddenly Melissa receives devastating news about her health. At first she refuses to accept the doctor's diagnosis, but as her illness gets worse she cannot deny the truth. The caring and closeness Melissa feels toward her family and especially toward Jory help her find the inner strength and courage to face the mysteries of living and dying.
Man, if there's anything I've learned from the Lurleneverse (and noted by Genevieve as well), the second your life starts to go as well as good grades and Brain Bowl (is that like being a mathlete?), you're gonna catch the cancer, no way out of it.

The book opens with Melissa and her BFF Jory getting up at 4 a.m. to help Melissa's brother fly his hot air balloon. Probably the technical term isn't "fly" but, you guys, I am not sitting here and researching proper hot air balloon terminology for you. My love only runs so deep. Just deal with it! Jory's going on and on and on about how hot Melissa's brother is and how baddddddddd she wants him, and Melissa just teases her instead of being all grossed out like I would be. This is probably because Melissa is obviously ALSO in love with her brother. Seriously, you guys, she can't shut up about him. Here are some excerpts:
He was dressed in well-worn jeans, and his black hair was still damp from a shower, all five foot ten of him smelling of clean, fresh soap.

. . .

Michael turned his sapphire-blue eyes toward her. Sometimes looking at him was like looking into a mirror. He had the same square face, high, angular cheekbones, and dark eyebrows as she.

. . .

Michael stood and stretched, his physique rippling with muscle.

That first passage in particular reminded me of this gross Sweet Valley High moment between Jess and Steven, quoted over at the Dairi Burger:
“Could you zip up my dress, please?”

. . .

“Sure” Steven said good-naturedly. He walked up to his sister, who was now standing before the full length mirror on the back of his closet door. He bent his six-one body over the zipper. It took a little maneuvering, but he finally managed to zip up the dress without damaging the delicate fabric.
Seriously, ghostwriter, I never, ever want to imagine Steven bending all six-foot-one of his body over Jessica.

As for that second passage, it's a little Chris and Cathy, yeah? Ewwww.

And as for the third? Well, geez, I've been won over. Now even I am hopelessly attracted to Michael. Oh, let me tell you guys some more about Michael. He's in community college, he works TWO JOBS so he can have a nice life and help out his poor, single, working mother, and he hot-air-balloons for fun.

So the first clue we're supposed to get that Melissa is illllllll is that she's draggin' her ass out of bed while Jory's all good morrrrrrrrrrrning! It's four a.m.! If being barely able to get out of bed at four a.m. means you have leukemia, I think almost everyone I know must have leukemia.

Actually, Melissa gets more symptoms in one page than anyone I've ever met in the Lurleneverse. In ONE PAGE she's got dark circles under her eyes, tons of unexplained bruising, fatigue, and uncontrollable bleeding. DUDE MELISSA THIS ISN'T GOOD. Also, this is PAGE TWO. Also every other second Lurlene mentions Melissa's waist-length dark brown hair, and you know any book that talks about long flowing luscious shining gleaming streaming flaxen-waxen hair is ready to chemo it all out.

Michael's all in love with the world post-balloon ride:
"It's incredible--high above the earth, seeing the world like a bird does. Man, it's almost better than--" He caught himself, glancing self-consciously at Jory.

"Better than sex?" Melissa finished drolly, quoting one of his frequently used descriptive phrases. "I wouldn't know."

"You better not."
Ew, Michael, shut up. You are not your sister's hymen's keeper.

So Michael is not into Jory at all, because she's rich and occasionally mentions she went somewhere fancy or, I dunno, shows up places in her nice car. It's really dumb; Jory's sixteen and can't help that her parents have money. She's super-nice and generous, so why does it make her a bad person? Okay, now I hate you, Michael, despite all your hard work and your rippling physique.

Jory encourages Melissa to be more into boys, but she's all I R VRY SRS STUDENT so because she wants to focus on her PSATs she apparently can't be into boys too. Whatever, fine. I have met people like this so I'll give it a pass even though it doesn't make a lot of sense to me, as boys can generally exist in the same world as good grades and PSATs. But then Melissa's occasionally mentioning all the dates she's been on in the past, etc., and I don't think it's very consistent. Anyone who has dated enough to refer to it like that isn't someone who doesn't get that you can date AND study. I guess the Lurleneverse is one of those places where all boys and girls date starting really young and go out on those totes proper date-dates, the kinds I don't think any high-schooler has been on in like two decades, yeah? Yeah. What a shock, the Lurleneverse not lining up with the reality I've lived through, right?

Despite this, Melissa is soooo into this dude named Brad. He's all RICH and HANDSOME, but also once Melissa is offered a spot on the Brain Bowl, he is too, so, wow, he is RICH and HANDSOME and SMART. If he's nice to his mother and not the keeper of anyone's hymen, I would say he officially wins out over Michael. Freaking Michael!

Melissa's mom isn't crazy about all the studying she's doing. Oh my god, Ms. Austin, you're a terrible mother! WHO COMPLAINS ABOUT THAT EVER?:
"I want to go to college."

Her mother sighed. [OH MY GOD YEAH THAT IS SOOO UNREASONABLE.] "How did I ever end up with success-oriented kids? [Obviously not by leading through example.] All I wanted to do when I was your age was get married."

"I want it all, Mom. Lots of women have careers and families. [Not in the Lurleneverse, sweetie.] Why can't I do both? [Uh, bruises, fatigue, bleeding, your brother's close watch on your virginity....] You do."

"I had to," her mother reminded her. "I would have been perfectly content to stay at home and raise babies. But, when I did have to go to work, it would have been much easier if I'd had an education to fall back on. [Wait, what?] As it was, I started at the bottom."
Shorter Ms. Austin: My life would have been a lot better with a college education so why do you want one? UM MS. AUSTIN DOESN'T THAT ACTUALLY MEAN YOU AGREE WITH YOUR DAUGHTER? You're an idiot; I don't think an undergraduate degree could have fixed that.

Jory shows up for dinner; since her parents are rich that means they're never home and don't actually love her. I read this sentence a few times but I'm still confused:
[Jory's] auburn curls were streaked with hair paint, and her outfit was straight out of a fashion magazine.
Can you guys PLEASE tell me what hair paint is? I have to know! Is it like that hair mascara? I totally remember that from the 1990s. What else could it be? Also why would Jory have a totally normal ensemble for school but then paint up her hair for dinner at the Austins? Oh, right, I bet she was hoping Michael was there. God, Jory, I actually really like you, but haven't you figured out by now Michael will not be impressed by such attempts as HAIR PAINT.

After their first grueling week of school, Jory invites Melissa over for a movie night. This book is so dated, check it out!:
"You're ruining your table," [Melissa] noted irritably.

Jory shrugged. "The maid will clean it tomorrow. [Oh those rich bitches and their maids!] Are we going to watch movies or blabber?"

"Which TV? The one in your room, the den, or the family room?" Melissa asked, knowing that the irony of the question would be lost on Jory. Didn't every house have three TVs?
UH YES MELISSA ANY MORE THEY ACTUALLY DO. Mine has five that are used regularly, and a few more in storage. I have seen the future, and it makes Jory Delaney's TV set-up quite unimpressive!

Melissa, of course, falls asleep early and sleeps in late, which is basically me on many weekends too, because I am old, and also because giant Mexican dinners tend to do that to a girl. So if you guys wake up late on Saturday mornings, review and assess: Did I have Mexican last night? If yes, whew! If no, CANCER CANCER CANCER.

They spend the day at the country club where Jory's a member BECAUSE SHE'S RICH. Guess who's there? Brad! Him and Melissa walk off on their own and get all flirty, even though Melissa is terrified. Again, this is why I hate all the mentions of all the dates Melissa's been on. Sure, it's scarier when it's someone you're TOTES INTO because there's, like, all this pressure on it to be AWESOME but GEEZ Melissa does NOT strike me as having tons of boy experience. Also I spoke to Michael and he confirmed with some official hymen reports. Thanks, Michael.

I actually like Brad but then he gets kind of creepy:
"Melissa." His voice went low and quiet. "Can I unbraid your hair?"

Flustered by his request and change of subject she stammered. "Y-Yes. If you want."

He reached over her shoulder and pulled the tightly wound braid forward, unclasping the gold clip. She couldn't tear her eyes from his face, couldn't stop the emotions and sensations pouring through her body. Brad unwound the plait slowly, dragging his fingers through the thick, dark masses of her hair until the strands fell loose and free. He sifted it through his fingers like sand, gathering it into handfuls. A breeze spun wispy strands across her face. "God, you have beautiful hair." His whisper sounded worshipful.
OF COURSE IT DID. Ew, I don't want to read about Fetish Boy and his desire to fuck Melissa's hair. I mean, I know this is only here so we can be all "OH NOES" in a few chapters, but, grrross.

Meanwhile, teachers have noticed all the bruises on Melissa and assume her mom's beating her. I guess that's good to have teachers who'd notice! I didn't go to a very good high school; I probably could have come in with a bunch of black eyes and my arm in a cast and gotten zero response. Oh, crap, does this explain why I started dying my hair all those wacky colors; WAS I JUST AFTER SOME ADULT ATTENTION? Pardon me while I reexamine my life in style.

Of course Ms. Austin, while being a shitty mother in other ways, wasn't beating Melissa, so Melissa has to go to the doctor to figure out what's going on. If this book was set fifteen years in the future, Melissa the brainiac would be using the hell out of Mayo Clinic and would already see her diagnosis all laid out for her. Honestly, I can't believe she's this much of a genius and can't figure this one out as it is.

While getting tested, this dude stops by Melissa's room:
"I'd heard from the nurses that there was a fox on the floor. [Geez, way to be unprofessional, nurses!] They didn't lie." The male voice coming from her doorway startled Melissa so completely that the brush fell from her grip [again, with the hair, god, could she nail this one in any more?] and clattered to the floor. In the doorway stood a stranger, surveying her with an insolent, wolfish grin.
Then the chapter ends. INTRIGUE! Wolfish? Is he a Special? Luckily, the next chapter picks up right where we left off, all Dan Brown-style again, so we don't have to wonder for long. He's just some dude named Ricter Davis, Ric for short. Ricter? THE HELL? Whose name is RICTER? I agree with the commenter who wants to see the weird-ass name book Lurlene uses. By the way, are there other writers who read this? Have you ever bought yourself a name book? Man, it's awful, I'm always like, "crap, do I look fat in this or do I look pregnant? I'm just a writer who needs help with names!" Luckily the internet has eliminated my need for those embarrassing scenarios.

Ricter's all "THE TESTS DON'T HURT AS MUCH AS THE RESULTS DO" and runs off, well, as much as he can run with one leg and two crutches. God, I hate him, he's all straight out of a Sarah Dessen book with ALL THE INFORMATION but not sharing it.

Thing is, he's right! Ruh roh! Melissa's got leukemia! Oh noes!

Ric shows up again with this observation:
"Jesus, you're pretty."

There was a sadness in his whispered words she didn't understand. "So what? What do my looks have to do with anything?"

"Just an observation."
Duh, Melissa, only ugly people are supposed to get cancer. Also:
"Too bad about your hair."

"What about it?"

"The chemo will take it. It'll take it all."
HOW DOES MELISSA NOT ALREADY KNOW THIS? I swear this was the FIRST thing I knew about cancer treatments! And I didn't qualify for any Brain Bowl action.

The book then, like, totes skims over the first weeks of treatment at double-speed, which is weird considering the painstakingly detailed narration of all the symptoms and tests. Geez, Lurlene, you're letting your medical fetishism slip. I guess there's only room for so much fetish in one book? Seriously, I bet this book is held aloft in hair-worship societies.

Once the hair's gone, Jory the awesome BFF shows up with some silk scarves for Melissa to wear. Melissa's all OMG THESE COST IN THE DOUBLE-DIGITS which made me giggle. I know back then that was a lot to spend but ha! It isn't weird at all for me to buy a friend a gift totalling in the double-digits, and none of my friends have even have worship-worthy hair that fell out due to leukemia treatments.

Melissa writes this journal entry:
I met a little girl today named Rachael. She's four and she has cancer, too. She thought I was very old, being sixteen, and I thought she was very sweet and too young for these things they're putting us through at the hospital. She asked me if I was a mommy. Of course, I'm not. But I can't help wondering if I ever will be. Who will want to make love to me now that I'm sick? What would it be like to have a baby grow inside of me? Will I ever know?
I thought this was actually pretty realistic, and I did like that Lurlene dealt with Melissa wondering if anyone would ever want to sleep with her. Isn't that how we deal with so much of the traumas life throws at us? Go Lurlene for not just going with "who will love me now" or "who'll marry me now"! This book is weirdly sexual. God, what a relief. I mean, hello, teenagers + drama? If some hormones don't show up I'd be concerned.

So Melissa's doing better so she gets to go home before she achieves remission. Yay! From how I understand it, kids don't have to have these terribly long stays for leukemia anymore, not that I'm some expert. I'm just trying to know what the hell I'm talking about so I can provide you lovely people with some insightful information.

Melissa takes her PSATs waaaay before she should be back at school, but of course still hits the 98th percentile. Go Melissa! She then gets to go back to school, which is tough, even though she's wearing a wig of artificial, shorter hair. Everyone's all "oh, man, sucks you had to cut your hair" like WHY THE HELL DO THESE PEOPLE NOT KNOW ABOUT CHEMO? No wonder Melissa achieved Brain Bowl so easily.

Sadly, Brad's met some new girl, which upsets Melissa even though she knows she has no chance anymore. This seems pretty realistic to me; I'm glad even though Brad was a semi-cool guy with a hair fetish, he acted the way a lot of kids would have acted. What can I say? Occasionally Lurlene strikes realism.

One day Melissa leaves school to be greeted by Ric. You guys ready for the creepy?"
"How did you find me?"

"I watched the school empty and kept an eye out for the pretty girls. I'd almost given up."

"I had Brain Bowl drill."

He glanced to the side. "Actually, I've waited for you before, but you always seemed to be with that girlfriend of yours."
Oh man, he's so straight out of a Sarah Dessen novel, stalking her into submission. Of COURSE Melissa starts dating him, basically because he's all "NO ONE ELSE WILL UNDERSTAND YOU LIKE I DOOOOO CANCER CANCER WE BOTH HAVE CANCER". Michael doesn't approve, because Ric's nineteen, and apparently poses a real threat to Melissa's hymen, but Jory thinks it's great. Melissa journals that Ric and his college friends are ultra-casual about sex, and everyone assumes they're doing it, even though they aren't. This is handled pretty well, actually, Melissa isn't casting judgment on anyone who is or thinks she is. Yay Melissa! Not being ready to have sex doesn't make her anti-sex, so I'm totally behind her.

Ric, though, is another story:
[After some making out.] "Let's go inside," she said to him while her mind swirled and spun with the sensations his touch was arousing."

"All right," he said, his voice husky. "But I won't always let you back off this way, Melissa. I'm not some high school kid, and I know what I want."
Melissa doesn't knee him in the groin like she should, she's just all, yeahhhh I understand. This is so gross. "Won't always let you back off"? Does that translate to "sooner or later I'm gonna rape you"? This is so wrong; I can't believe this is accepted. If I was writing this book, Melissa and Jory would team up to teach Ric a lesson about threatening girls with sex. Also, how does that make any girl actually WANT to do it? Ric, I hope the next time you try that line on a girl she shows you what's what.

So Ric asks Melissa away for Spring Break, and this is what he says:
"Ric... I don't--" She stopped, groping for the right words. "I mean... I've never...."

"I know you haven't, Melissa. But when you do, I want it to be with me."
OH MY GOD RIC YOU ARE SO FUCKING CREEPY. He couldn't phrase it in a way that suggests he actually wants to have sex with Melissa, noooo, he wants Melissa to give it up to him. Helloooo control issues. Ric is so getting sued for sexual harassment at a future job.

Melissa thinks it over and decides against it. I wish I could say that's because she realizes Ric is a disgusting control freak who thinks he can use force to get what he wants, but, no:
"Before I got leukemia, I had so many plans. I wanted to make the Brain Bowl team--no junior has ever made the final panel. I wanted to be a National Merit Scholar. I wanted to go to college and study law. I wanted so many things, Ric."

. . .

"But I still want those things, Ric. In spite of everything that's happened."

"What's that got to do with our spending the weekend together?"

"You aren't my only option in life, Ric. Please don't make me your only one."
Okay, I half-agree with her. Ric is all basically "YOU MUST BE WITH ME BECAUSE OF THE CANCER CANCER CANCER WE ARE EACH OTHER'S ONLY OPTIONSSSS" and that is NO reason to be in a relationship. That said, I have it on good authority you can have sex in high school and still GO TO COLLEGE and STUDY LAW. The implication sex limits your options is so, so wrong and soooo anti-sex I want to puke. After so many really refreshing mentions of sex in this book, I was so annoyed to have it all come down to SEX IN HIGH SCHOOL IS BAD EVEN IF YOU WANT TO AND TAKE PRECAUTIONS. Ugh, Lurlene, you've let me down yet again!

Melissa fights to stay on the Brain Bowl team, and wins, and is all set for her first big match. Jory shows up to go with her, and Melissa's thrilled Jory has traded in her funky clothes for "polished sophistication". Ugh. Jory's sixteen! Isn't it too early to worry about such things, honestly? If there are any sixteen-year-olds reading this, revel in your time to wear whatever you want, okay? A few short years from now you could be stuck in corporate dress-code hell, and you're going to really regret the years lost to polished sophistication.

Jory presents Melissa with a gift, which is a super-expensive wig made of human hair (ew, paging Chris March!) that looks just like her old hair. I do wish the lesson learned could have been that Melissa is just as beautiful without it, but, whatever, it's the sweetest thing in the world that Jory did it for her. And on that note, the book ends. OH MY GOD MELISSA SURVIVED! Smart move being the protag, Melissa. Knowing your BFF narrates the sequel, I'm a bit concerned.