*Starred Review* Gr. 5-8. Steven Alper is a typical eighth-grader--smarter than some, a better drummer than most, but with the usual girl problems and family trials. Then, on October 7, his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, falls, has a nosebleed that doesn't stop, and is diagnosed with leukemia. All hell breaks loose. Mrs. Alper's days and nights revolve around getting Jeffrey to his chemotherapy treatments, and Mr. Alper retreats into a shell, coming out only occasionally to weep over the mounting medical bills.
Steven becomes the forgotten son, who throws himself into drumming, even as he quits doing his homework and tries to keep his friends from finding out about Jeffrey's illness. A story that could have morphed into melodrama is saved by reality, rawness, and the wit Sonnenblick infuses into Steven's first-person voice.
The recriminations, cares, and nightmares that come with a cancer diagnosis are all here, underscored by vomiting, white blood cell counts, and chemotherapy ports. Yet, this is also about regrouping, solidarity, love, and hope. Most important for a middle-grade audience, Sonneblick shows that even in the midst of tragedy, life goes on, love can flower, and the one thing you can always change is yourself.
Now, you might wonder why anybody would want to read a book about a teenage boy who has a little brother with cancer. However, this book was #5 on the 2005 Teens' Top Ten list so obviously a lot of teenagers read and enjoyed it. I usually only read books that I think will be fun to read, so I was skeptical about this one but I wanted to give it a try.
Actually, I'm glad I did. Sonnenblick's writing is very interesting and easy to read. I felt for Steven, the main character and I found his experiences to be fascinating. I could empathize with him and all the things he was going through. I think it is quite authentic - Steven probably reacts like any teenager would in times of a family crisis.
Steven is just trying to get on with his life. He enjoys playing drums and he's worried about girls and school and all that stuff. At the same time, he has to struggle with the fact that his brother has cancer. He has to face his relationship with his parents and deal with his own selfish feelings.
This book was different and because of that I really enjoyed it. It made me laugh and cry. I highly recommend it to students who want to read something more serious then the usual YA fair. The writer wrote this for one of his students who was going through a similar situation. If you've ever gone through a family crisis like a sick sibling, you might find this book a comfort as well.