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Book Review: Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder

Publisher’s description

Part poignant cancer memoir and part humorous reflection on a motherless life, this debut graphic novel is extraordinarily comforting and engaging.

From before her mother’s first oncology appointment through the stages of her cancer to the funeral, sitting shiva, and afterward, when she must try to make sense of her life as a motherless daughter, Tyler Feder tells her story in this graphic novel that is full of piercing—but also often funny—details. She shares the important post-death firsts, such as celebrating holidays without her mom, the utter despair of cleaning out her mom’s closet, ending old traditions and starting new ones, and the sting of having the “I’ve got to tell Mom about this” instinct and not being able to act on it. This memoir, bracingly candid and sweetly humorous, is for anyone struggling with loss who just wants someone to get it.

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s been 8 years since my dad was killed in a car accident. Sometimes I absolutely cannot handle anything that deals with parental death. But I’d been looking forward to this book for a long time, so when it showed up at my house, I dropped everything and read it. I’m so glad I did.

Grief is a weird thing. It changes all the time, it’s intensely personal while also being so universal, and you have to still try to live your regular life while hauling it around. Feder’s book captures all of that and so much more.

When Tyler’s mother feels some abdominal pain, no one knows that indicates their lives will be forever changed. She’s eventually diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, and eventually that diagnosis morphs to stage 4 uterine cancer. They all try to remain optimistic, but it isn’t long before it’s very clear to Tyler and her family that her mother will not survive this. As her mother undergoes treatment and begins to fade, Tyler is still going to college and trying to compartmentalize her life enough to power through each day. Eventually, of course, as we know this is a dead mom memoir, the cancer spreads, hospice is called, and her mother dies.

But then what? Sure, they have the logistical pieces of meeting with the rabbi and the funeral director. But, seriously, then what? How do you go about daily life? Tyler shows us the ups and downs, the setbacks and little steps forward, the pain and laughter and unexpected moments. Much of the story is told in a traditional graphic/comic format, but there are small breaks in the narrative that offer up lists or comparisons or little snippets of grief life. There’s a chart of items to have on hand for making a good cry a great cry. There are illustrations of misery yoga, depictions of things that died when her mom died, cliche grief remedies that actually work, types of sadness, and dos and don’ts for dealing with a grieving person.

While this is about watching someone you love die and life after loss, it’s also just a really beautiful love letter to her mom. Her mom seems like she was awesome. I was worried this book would wreck me, but that wasn’t the case. I mostly just nodded my head in recognition at her feelings, admired the close relationship Tyler and her mother had, and appreciated the candid, warm, cathartic feel of the whole thing. The mileage varies on everyone’s grief, but this story full of so much love and honesty will be a comfort to many.

Review copy (finished book) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525553021
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Invincible by Amy Reed

In Amy Reed’s Invincible, things are looking pretty grim for 17-year-old cancer patient Evie. She’s back in the hospital after breaking her leg, which of course sucks, but at least she has acerbic Stella and sweet Caleb to keep her company. They are her hospital-world best friends. In her outside world, it seems unlikely that Evie, a cheerleader, would be best friends with Stella, who is in an all-girl punk band. In her outside world, she’s best friends with Kasey, a fellow cheerleader, and dates Will, who has doted on her during her illness. When Evie learns her Ewing’s Sarcoma has metastasized and is now in her marrow, she feels like it’s her job to still keep smiling and not letting on how she really feels even as it appears the end is near. The next steps and treatments are extensive and only have a 4-7% survival rate. Evie decides she would like to stop all treatments—she is ready for this to be over. And then the unthinkable happens: she gets better. Evie suddenly has the bloodwork of a healthy kid. There is no cancer anywhere in her body. Evie is allowed to go home—not to die, as she had been planning to do, but to live.

 

Evie knows she should be grateful to be given this second chance, but going back to “normal life” proves to be very hard. She’s not the same person she was before her cancer. If she’s not Cancer Girl anymore, who is she? Why is everyone acting like it’s so normal that she’s back home, acting like she should be able to just slip back into her old life, despite what she’s been through, despite what she’s seen? Everyone is polite, grateful, and endlessly kind. Evie hates it. She begins abusing her pain pills not for her physical pain, but for the deep emotional pain she constantly feels. She tries to get back into the routine of school and her friends there, but it just feels impossible. As they make small talk about things Evie missed, like what the theme for prom is this year, Evie thinks, “I can’t believe I came back from the dead for this.”

 

Before long, Evie has to make a break from her old life. She ends her relationship with Will and begins to see Marcus, a boy she met in a dark tunnel, of all places. She starts smoking pot, drinking, and taking more and more of her pills. She’s able to hide what she’s up to for a long time, but eventually her parents figure out her drug use and realize she’s a mess. Evie doesn’t care. Nothing they say or do matters to her. She keeps sneaking out, running away, and getting high. She hides her pill addiction from Marcus, who has his reasons for warning her to stay away from pills and hard drugs. She spirals for a long time, eventually alienating everyone in her life. She hates herself, but doesn’t even know where to start cleaning up her many messes. It’s not clear whether Evie will be able to get a grip before she self-destructs, and readers are left with a cliffhanger ending—an ending that (bravely) ends right in the middle of a sentence.

 

Readers who insist on likeable characters might not like this book. Evie is a wreck. I scowled through most of the book. It’s hard to watch Evie make truly terrible choices over and over again, to watch her suffer in silence. She is mean—cruel even—and manipulative. But we shouldn’t have to like her—we should just have to find her interesting enough to keep reading. And I couldn’t put this book down. Just when it seems like Evie has made enough crappy choices and caused enough pain, Reed pushes her ever forward, letting her get to a darker and darker place. Pair this book with Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Vary for two intriguing looks at how to live after you’ve already accepted death. 

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
ISBN-13:  9780062299574
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/28/2015