SO MUCH TO LIVE FOR by Lurlene McDaniel (Willowisp Press, 1991)

14 Dec

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GENRE: Realistic Fiction

HONORS: None Known

REVIEW: This third in the “Dawn Rochelle” series, So Much to Live For follows the protagonist, fifteen-year-old Dawn Rochelle, as she begins work at a camp for kids with cancer. Dawn has attended the camp herself—she’s a leukemia survivor and is in remission. But Dawn’s “easy” summer job becomes complicated when she runs up against Marlee, one of her campers with cancer—and a very bad attitude. As Dawn gets to know Marlee, she begins to know the depths of her loneliness and fear. And Dawn finds a new friend in Marlee, even as camp takes Dawn back to her own friendship with Sandy, her camp bestie who’s passed away after her own fight with cancer. At the end, Dawn realizes every fight is different, but everyone needs someone who’s on their side.

OPINION: McDaniels is known as the queen of sick-lit, and this book is the perfect example why. Here the drama, the story, and the entire premise is based on the protagonist’s illness—cancer is the main device that propels the action and the narrative. But there is no nuance here. There is only cancer bad, fighting it good. In fact, the entire book is overdone, overwritten, overworked. The writing is stilted and juvenile. The dialogue is forced and unnatural. But despite all these melodramatic parts, there is still something satisfying about the whole—a chicken potpie for the soul. It fills you, even though you have a stomachache at the end. McDaniels has hit on a formula that resonates (and has resonated) for generations of teens. Illness sells. And McDaniels peddles it well.

IDEAS: As the original sick-lit author, any of McDaniel’s books could be read in conjunction with the breadth of other novels in the sub-genre. It would be interesting to compare sick-lit of 1991 with sick-lit of twenty years later to see if there are differences now in how illness is portrayed.

 

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