By Lucy Frank
Schwartz & Wade (August 5, 2014)
Reviewed by Carol Baldwin
Written out of Frank’s own battle with Crohn’s disease, this novel-in-verse is simultaneously beautiful and earthy. The premise is simple and as alluded to by the title, focuses on two young women—as opposite in lifestyle, character, and background as you can imagine—who share a Crohn’s disease diagnosis, as well as a hospital room.
This is not exactly a book written in two-points-of-view, but then again, it is. As Frank explains before the novel commences, the line down the center of many pages represents the curtain separating the two hospital beds. No line means the curtain is open or that Chess, the main character, is no longer in the room. The reader is told that the verses on the left belong to Chess; those on the right are Shannon’s. Although the reader discovers more about Chess’s backstory and struggles, Shannon’s history, pain, and family relationships are also gradually revealed. This format is a clever way of presenting this story.
Like drips out of Chess’s IV bag, the reader slowly begins to understand the events leading up to Chess’s hospitalization. Although readers might guess that the date Chess had before she was taken to the ER culminated with sexual harassment or rape, the truth of a beautiful night which ended in disaster is slowly revealed.
To show you how well this book is written, here are some segments. (Note: Chess’s POV is left justified, Shannon’s is right justified.)
Bald-head doctor’s voice
too fast, too smooth,
too jolly, hearty, way too close,
drawing squiggly pictures of intestines
as Mom nods and peppers him
with questions I can’t listen to.
I don’t know
this hard and tough language.
Don’t speak Disease.
And I am so tired,
I close my ears until he’s gone,
and through the curtain Shannon mutters:
“Duh. I could’ve diagnosed her
two days ago.
You don’t need to be a friggin; genius
to know she’s got Crohn’s. Same as me.
Crohn’s. Inflammatory bowel–“
around my brain.
“You don’t know me!
You know nothing about me or my…”
My mouth runs screaming
from the B-word.
“Mom. Could you see if this
curtain closes any tighter?
“Fine with me.
Who said I was even talking to you?
I’m just saying it pisses me off,
these turkeys talking about tough.
They wouldn’t know tough
if it bit them on their flabby ass.” (p. 73-4)
And I whisper to the dark:
“I wish I could be just me.
Without my body.”
Then through the curtain,
I hardly know
“Sometimes it helps
if you imagine purring.
One of those big old stripey-
I’ll just stand here on your pillow
and keep this going all night
long as you don’t do something
to annoy me-
tomcats with a rumbling purr
that quiets down your breath
and helps your heart un-hurt.
“Anyway. That’s what works
for me sometimes.” (p. 105-6)
Even if you’ve never faced a life-threatening illness, there’s much to appreciate about this award-winning novel. But don’t just take my word for it. View the trailer below, then buy the book for the teen reader in your life who feels as if she’s got to battle whatever disease or situation, which makes her feel all alone.