Friday, November 22, 2013

Anthem For Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce

Anthem For Jackson Dawes is a deeply touching novel about two teens who experience the first stirrings of love while facing down treatment for cancer.

Thirteen year old Megan has a brain tumour. Three rounds of chemotherapy and surgery are in her future. On her first day in the oncology ward, Megan is shocked to see that there are mostly children. Except for Jackson Dawes, a tall sixteen year old who is a force of nature in the ward. He is known to all the younger children and is famous with the staff for going on walks throughout the hospital.

" 'That boy,' Mum said, 'is just beautiful. He's like an ebony statue. And that just never stops. Isn't he lovely...' "

As Megan goes through her first treatment Jackson is there to comfort and encourage her with his positive attitude. Jackson has a cancer that is so rare, the doctors do not have a name for it. This tidbit of information foreshadows what will happen in the story.

At first Megan doesn't want to have anything to do with Jackson, since he seems to be a person who knows "everything about anything." Jackson tells her that her friends won't bother coming around or calling because they won't understand and they will be afraid of catching her illness. Megan defends them at first but soon realizes that Jackson is right. Gradually their friendship grows as Jackson helps Megan adjust to chemo and life in the hospital. They share a kiss and the beginnings of a blossoming love.

When Jackson and Megan meet up again during Megan's third chemo treatment, Megan notices that something is off about Jackson, he seems withdrawn, tired and thin. However, he does help her when side effects of the chemo begin to appear. It is only after Megan's operation and her struggle to recover that the pieces begin to fit together.

This was a very moving novel, that captured the tragedy and suffering of young people who have cancer and also the toll it takes on those who love and support them. Bryce manages this in a way that is not overwhelming to her readers, but gradually unfolds as the story does. Megan's perspective is somewhat subdued but the reader will soon realize that Megan is having a difficult time accepting her situation ("It didn't feel like anything to boast about, having cancer.") or what is happening to the others on the cancer ward.

Anthem For Jackson Dawes has some wonderful characters who develop believable relationships with one another. While the relationship between Jackson and Megan is the prominent one, it is the relationship that Megan has with her father that illuminates this novel. Although he is mostly absent due to his work overseas, and Megan tells him not to come home when she has her chemo and her surgery, it's obvious that her relationship with her dad is very special. It is ultimately her father who helps her cope with Jackson's situation and he helps her to gain some perspective on what has happened. In fact the conversation between Megan and her father is the highlight of this novel, poignant and tender, a father trying to help his daughter learn to live again in the face of incomprehensible tragedy.

Other important relationships in the novel include the one between Megan and a young girl named Kipper who has cancer and also that between Megan and her grandfather who is ninety-five years old. Kipper helps draw Megan out of her own world of uncertainty, while Granddad tries to cheer her up.

Written in third person, Anthem For Jackson Dawes is a good novel for those aged 9 to 12 who are interested in realistic fiction and is good precursor to reading something like John Green's The Fault In Our Stars. Anthem For Jackson Dawes is Celia Bryce's debut novel. This promising writer from the United Kingdom, teaches creative writing and writes for radio and stage.

Book Details:

Anthem For Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce
New York: Bloomsbury 2013
230 pp.

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