Thursday, March 14, 2013

All these lives by Sarah Wylie

Most people think the biggest sacrifice, the greatest act of love you can give is to die for someone. And probably it is.
But sometimes it is the opposite.
The biggest thing you can do for someone is to live.
Finally a Canadian novel with an interesting cover that might actually appeal to Canadian readers!

Sarah Wylie's debut, All These Lives, is a strange, heart-rending account of a young girl struggling to cope with her twin sister's incurable cancer. What makes this novel so intriguing is that the focus of the novel is not on the character with the disease, but on her sister and family.

Danielle (Dani) Bailey is twin sister to Jena who has cancer. Jena's leukemia has not responded to treatment and she needs a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, Dani is not a suitable marrow donor and all she can do is simply watch her sister suffer and perhaps draw closer to death.

When she was younger, Dani survived both a serious car accident and a serious chest infection, Dani's mother has always told her how she was "the girl with nine lives." Later on, her Uncle Stephan tells Dani about the history of the nine lives myth - that when a cat loses one of its nine lives, that life is released into the universe to be caught by another. This misguided and very strange belief that she has nine lives, leads Dani to engage in behaviours she hopes will rid herself of her remaining seven lives, allowing Jena to grab one and be well again.

When Dani isn't trying to harm herself, she is busy being sarcastic to everyone, embarrassing cute Jack Penner whose family is also dealing with a difficult situation, auditioning for a toothpaste commercial, and ticking off Candi and Spencer, two people she truly dislikes at school.

But every time Jena's health takes a downturn, Dani decides to do something that will cause her to come close to dying. Her mother soon recognizes that Dani needs help and sends her to a therapist. Of course, Dani isn't co-operative and is her usual sarcastic self to the therapist. But it is when she commits an act that almost leads to her death, that Dani realizes that she must face her greatest fear, which is not of her sister dying but of living to see her suffer.

In Dani, Wylie has crafted a character who is disagreeable, but also tragic. Dani's constant sarcasm is irritating but it's also part of Dani's limited way of coping with her sister's illness. Readers will probably develop a healthy dislike for Dani, but by the end we begin to appreciate just how difficult her family's circumstances are. Part of her problem is the way her parents are also coping. Dani can't ever talk about "IT", her sister illness, because in her family this is a topic to be avoided at all costs.
"Even now, it's still hard for him to say it. I don't blame him. It's an icky word. Why couldn't whoever was in charge of naming things call cancer "sugar" and sugar "cancer"? People might not eat so much of the stuff then. and it's so much more pleasant to die of sugar."
Another part of Dani's inability to cope is that fact that despite being a twin, she cannot donate the one thing her sister needs most - bone marrow. This leaves her feeling devastated and frustrated, and determined to help her sister in the only way she knows.

All These Lives offers a unique treatment of young people and cancer, is well written, evenly paced, and a good first novel for Canadian author, Sarah Wylie. Readers might also like to contrast this novel with  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green which also deals with young people coping with a terminal illness.

Book Details:
All These Lives by Sarah Wylie
New York: Margaret Ferguson Books 2012
248 pp.

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