These books are so well-written, funny and real, about a family dealing with cancer (I know – who could even believe it might be funny?). Why did it take me so long to read these?
Let me, first, get a little something off my chest. Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie has a bunch of different covers. And this one is not the one that was on the book I read, so I usually wouldn’t have picked this one to use for my review. Not to mention that I think it’s an ugly cover and much prefer some of the other ones. But it matches the cover for After Ever After which is, from what I can tell, the only cover for that book.
So then I have the dilemma of “use the matching covers” or “use the cover I do not hate and also actually saw every time I picked the book up to read.” These are dilemmas, people. My life is not all bonbon eating and YA reading.
Also, because I’m talking about two books at once here, it might spoil some of the first book for you. Consider yourself warned.
The first one, Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, is told from eighth-grader Steven’s point of view, much of it in journal entries for his English class. As the year begins, he’s mostly caught up in his drumming and the ridiculously beautiful girl in his class, Renee. And perhaps a little whining about his five-year-old brother. It’s amusing and very average-teenage kind of stuff. And then that five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, is diagnosed with leukemia. Suddenly life is a little less average and a lot more terrifying.
In a very realistic way, Steven tries to deal with this by telling absolutely no one. Of course, it eventually comes out and it changes the way people interact with him. And having a brother with cancer doesn’t mean Jeffrey doesn’t sometimes still really annoy Steven.
The entire dynamic of Steven’s family changes too, as the mother quits her job in order to take Jeffrey back and forth from a nearby city for treatment and to be able to stay with him in the hospital. This leaves Steven and his dad home together alone for long periods of time, with his dad becoming pretty reclusive and, when he is out, he’s mostly just worried about money. Life is a little bleak, to say the least.
After Ever After takes place during Jeffrey’s eighth-grade year. He’s survived the leukemia, although it’s definitely left its mark, as he has a fairly pronounced limp and also suffers from some learning disorders because of the treatment.
And even a life without cancer is complicated. The new girl in school is beautiful and smart, but what are the chances she’ll be interested in the chubby boy who limps and can’t do math? And why has Steven dropped out of college and gone to Africa – after years of relying on Steven to be there for him, Jeffrey feels lost with Steven completely unreachable.
Oh, these books. I laughed out loud, I made Bart listen while I read him passages that were too funny not to share (the true test of a good book for me), and I felt a little teary. It’s a sign of a well-written book, to me, that it can deal with such a tragic situation and still be funny, without being flippant or annoying.
Having lost my own brother to cancer, I’m always interested in books that deal with these kinds of situations and how families work through it. This book made me so grateful that my parents didn’t fall apart when Shepard was diagnosed and that, in nearly every way, our lives went on very much as normal.
Most reviews I’ve read seem to prefer Drums, but I thought After Ever After was better. Read them both and tell me if I’m wrong.
Also, since reading them, I also checked out and read Notes from the Midnight Driver which was just as good as these two.
Copies checked out from my local library