CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 2 . . . . September 14, 2007
A good book is more than a good read. When a book can give you insight into the lives of others and allow you to, however briefly, understand their joys and pain a book is an invaluable teacher.
The older sister, Heather, takes the reader through the birth, life, and eventual death of Pam in her early twenties. Through this dual biography/autobiography, as this is a story as much about Heather as it is about Pam, the reader watches the Summerhayes as they cope, sometimes with wisdom and forbearance and at other times with debilitating fear, with the effects of the disease. We see that Pam’s illness affects both family, friends, and, through the work Pam’s parents, creates a community centred around fighting cystic fibrosis.
The story of the Summerhayes family’s life is told unsentimentally with bracing honesty and sharp clarity. The author depicts the resentments between her and her sister, as well as the guilt and the devotion.
Cariou is unsparing in her description of her own behaviour, which was partly a response to the anger she felt toward cystic fibrosis and its control over her sister’s life as well as the demands the disease made on her parents’ attention. Her parents’ response to the disease and its attendant emotional roller coaster is also discussed. While their marriage nearly cracked under the strain of the illness, they coped stoically, drawing on the strength of their faith and their need to prolong their youngest daughter’s life---they would found the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In later years, they would be awarded the Order of Canada for their efforts.
Throughout Cariou’s book, we see Pam’s evolution as a young woman and as an ordinary individual who would, as a child, cope with the very unpleasant early treatments for the disease, the unkind remarks of some individuals, and the physical demands of the disease with resentment and anger. Later, as an adult she became philosophical in her view of the disease and how to live with it. She would strive and achieve with grace and maturity in her later youth and young adulthood.
Cariou is a fine writer who knows how to pace a story. Throughout the book, the author mentions historical events, such as the Kennedy assassination and the popular music of the period, which gives a foundation to the family’s experiences. A weakness in the book is that the reader learns very little about the author’s two brothers, one of whom also has cystic fibrosis.
This book is a teacher. For all of us who have looked on the trials of others and wondered how one copes with fear, pain, extreme stress and illness, this book will act as a guide. Pam and Heather and their parents demonstrate that strength and wisdom are within us all. For the young reader, this is an invaluable lesson. The book also shows us that laughter and joy go a long way to keeping families together as well.
I highly recommend it for mature young readers.
Located in Toronto, ON, J. Lynn Fraser is a freelance writer who is the author of a nonfiction book for children and whose magazine articles appear in national and international publications.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.