Who's the best person to advise you on what to eat when chocolate tastes like wax? Another kid on chemo. Mia and Zac inhabit a world where "he's sick" doesn't mean a cold or a headache or a hangover; it's something else, something menacing, something that echoes in your ears and takes your breath away.
Mia lives in Perth, the child of a single, poor mother. Zac lives on an olive oil and tourist farm down South. Mia listens to Lady Gaga far too loud, yells obscenities at her Mum, and can't figure out why Zac keeps calling her "lucky". She's a ten-percenter, not a fifty-percenter or an eighty-percenter. Zac spends his time on Doctor Google (when he's not fantasising about Emma Watson), classifying his fellow cancer patients in terms of their probability of surviving the next five years. Mia feels like she's the only kid who ever had cancer, and refuses to even tell her friends she's sick. To make things worse, Mia's Mum seems to be a waste of space, and her self-esteem is tied up in her self-perceived "hotness". As she gets to know Zac, she slowly starts to realise that the world is far bigger and lovelier and scarier than she had imagined.
Something I like about modern YA Books like this one is they way they are starting to incorporate social media and online chat in far more realistic and integrated ways than earlier batches of books. When Zac's in isolation after a bone marrow transplant, Facebook, blogs, and Youtube are his social world. When he gets Mia's Facebook friend request, his panicked freezing is both hilarious and authentic:
"My finger overrides my brain and presses the screen.Confirm
I brace myself but there are no seismic shifts or deafening alarms. This hasn't changed anything. She's just become one more fake friend on my profile page.
Was it the cleaner next door? Or a girl's knuckle?Tap
I catch Mum glaring at the wall. "Was that you?" she asks, and I shake my head.
"Maybe there's a mouse."Tap
, the wall insists, Tap tap
Holy crap! In the space of two hours, the new girl's moved in next door, Facebook-friended me and tapped me? This is happening at warp speed.
I scramble to her page to see her life exposed in comments and photos and emoticons."
I also like Zac's musings about transplantation and the self:
"I try to catch myself being someone else.
I know it sounds like a B-grade thriller -- When Marrow Attacks!
-- but if my own marrow's been wiped out of my bones then replaced with a stranger's, shouldn't that change who I am? Isn't marrow where my cells are born, to bump their way through the bloodstream and to every part of me? So if the birthplace of my cells now stems from another human being, shouldn't this change everything?
I'm told I'm now 99.9 percent someone else. I'm told this is a good thing, but how can I know for sure? What if I now kick a footy with the skill of a German beer wench? What if I've forgotten how to drive a ute or ride a quad bike? What if my body doesn't remember how to run? What if these things aren't stored in my head or muscles, but down deeper, in my marrow?"
This is later echoed in Mia's voice:
"I read about patients having four treatments. THere are successes even then, even after the fifth. A woman has six bone marrow transplants over ten years and she lives, the blood of strangers colouring her cheeks."
I've no doubt this book will be compared to The Fault in Our Stars, just because it features two teens with cancer. This is a very different book, though, so don't go in expecting that quirky hilarious tearjerker Green experience. It is, however, a very worthwhile and entertaining read in its own right, and Fiona Wood's blurb was right on for me - I really didn't want to put it down (I read it in a day). The sense of place is strong and genuine (Perth and the southwest is my stamping ground too). This is possibly the only YA book I've ever read that recognised that "lame" is an ableist word - that's an extra star right there. It's also not a twee romance-heavy book, but I think we're up to more than five stars by now! I can't say much more without spoilers. Check it out for yourself.