Children represent the epitome of health, often recovering quickly from illness or injuries. Their bodies seem so strong and resilient that many young people take their good health for granted. So it is always a shock when a child is diagnosed with a serious, even life-threatening illness. Families are often left to ponder an uncertain future for their loved one. And it can be extremely difficult for any young person, who is surrounded by healthy peers experiencing all that life has to offer. It is a delicate subject to touch upon, yet more and more authors are tackling the harsh physical and emotional realities of a sick child. With sensitivity, but without being maudlin, these authors are showing that having an illness or a disability does not mean that a child’s life can’t be filled with joy and magical moments. And if there is one thing that these books have to offer readers, it is a sense of hope — even in the face of the most trying challenges.
Going Bovine (Ember, $11.99)
by Libba Bray – Ages 15 and up
Libba Bray, author of a popular trilogy set in the Victorian era, makes a leap to present-day Texas in this thought-provoking book about a boy diagnosed with Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, otherwise known as mad cow disease. The hero, 16-year-old Cameron, is a bit of a loner, especially compared to his smart and popular twin sister Jenny. Cameron is aimlessly drifting through high school, smoking pot in the school bathroom, ignoring his homework and working part-time. Then he starts to hallucinate and ends up in the hospital, where he learns of his fatal illness. Trapped in the hospital, and with his days numbered, Cameron has a vision. A punk-angel named Dulcie appears and tells him to set out on a quest to save the world. So off he goes, accompanied by his hospital roommate, a teenage dwarf named Gonzo. Whether the trip actually takes place or is only in Cameron’s mind becomes a fascinating part of the story. On his crazy road trip, Cameron meets all kinds of characters and comes to question what it means to be happy and alive. Bray has crafted a complex, entertaining and heartbreaking story that will push young readers to think about their values.
Out of My Mind (Atheneum, $23.99)
by Sharon M. Draper – Ages 9-13
In this novel, Sharon M. Draper tackles the harsh realities of living with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects a person’s capacity to breathe and restricts the ability to control motor skills. As the book’s heroine, 11-year-old Melody Brooks, says, “I can’t talk. I can’t walk. I can’t feed myself or take myself to the bathroom. Big bummer.”
Because of her physical limitations, Melody is put into classrooms for students with special needs, where too often the young people are asked to participate in boring activities or watch childish movies. Melody is bright, articulate and full of insightful observations. She has a photographic memory, enjoys poetry and would love to be intellectually challenged. But she must deal with the uninformed people around her, who approach her with fear or pity. Will she be able to grow into the person she desires to be? The author is the mother of a child with cystic fibrosis and she knows all too well the harsh realities of this disease. Draper has created a vibrant, feisty character who faces her disease realistically and tries to do her best every day — something to which we should all aspire.