I know 11 and 18 are not all that far apart in number, but face it: our 11 year old selves would probably faint if they had any idea of who we would become by 18. For one thing, I was a lot more optimistic when I was young, before I understood how painful reality really is. For that reason alone, my 11 year old self would have put this book down after the second chapter. When I was young, I was one of those kids who worried about EVERYTHING. I mean, there was a time when I thought the fan in my room was going to simultaneously combust and I'd burn to a crisp before I could awake to save myself from the fire. Or that my bunk bed would come crashing down on me and crush my skull (okay, I still sleep so that my head is not under the other bed...but that's a legitimate concern, right?). As a kid who had never personally known someone fighting cancer, my view of it was limited to the commercials St. Jude plays on TV and those telethons that play sad music and show sad, sick kids because they think it'll make the viewer more likely to donate. And my view of those, too, was pretty limited, because whenever such advertisements came on, I usually ran away, worried that by seeing the commercial, somehow I would get cancer too. I thought cancer was an automatic death sentence.
So you can see why I wouldn't consider this a book for 11 year olds, based on my own experiences. But present day, I'm quite the opposite of how I was then. I do a lot of reading about patients and research, mainly because it intrigues me. When it comes down to it, I want to know what it is like to have cancer. I'll pause for a second while you scream at the computer and tell me I'm crazy and do not really want to know such horrors. But in the future when I work with kids that have cancer (I want to go into pediatric surgical oncology) I want to understand what my patients are going through as much as possible. Now considering my curiosity and that I have read countless patient stories in a considerable amount of my free time (which, itself, is pretty limited) you'd think this book, written for 6th graders, would seem pretty boring to me. But I have to admit, regardless of everything I've learned in the past few years about cancer, the events in the book completely caught me off guard. For example, when Steven''s little brother Jeffrey is diagnosed with Leukemia and his parents forget Steven exists, his self pity completely made sense to me, despite the fact that such occurrences had never crossed my mind before. And when Steven and his dad accompany Jeffrey to the hospital for his treatment for the first time, it felt as though I was there for the first time, too, even though I've never accompanied a patient on such a journey.
The book was fantastic, whether or not its intended for 11 year olds. Despite the depressing situation the family is facing, I found myself laughing out loud countless times. And I learned a lot about the whole cancer treatment process from a sibling's point of view. Sonnenblick's writing style is beautifully realistic, jam packed with bits of sarcasm (that I must admit I'm a sucker for) and blissfully heart-warming moments. If you're planning on reading the book (which I totally suggest you do!) skip to the next paragraph because I don't want to ruin it for you...............but for those of you that are not in touch with your 11 year old reading habits, I'll fill you in on one of the best moments of the book. After Jeffrey realizes that everyone else knows he's bald (and is very upset about it) his brother, and all of his brother's band members, shave their heads. Recently shaving my head for the same reason (read about it in the blog entry before this) I was moved by this action, hoping that Jeffrey's feeling of pure exuberance when he sees the bare heads is a similar feeling that I have given those that have seen my bare head.
Sonnenblick made some solid points about life (or themes, if you prefer) that I think are worth throwing out there. For example, Steven explains that "[he] was struck again by the power of cancer to get attention. For better or for worse, being involved with cancer puts you on everybody's radar screen." In my few weeks being bald I have noticed a lot of attention from strangers, and when I came across this part of the story, I knew exactly where he was coming from. Personally, I think it's good that cancer stirs attention, because it definitely helps raise money and awareness for the cause; however, it's pretty pitiful that it takes such a terrible event to get the many people to care at all. On a more optimistic note, Steven is given some good advice that all of us should follow: "Instead of agonizing about the things you can't change, why don't you try working on the things you can change?" And one of the things we can always change, he realizes, is our mind and attitude towards the things we face.