CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 35. . . .May 11, 2018
The Best Medicine.
Toronto, ON: Annick, 2017.
168 pp., hc., html & pdf, $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-880-7 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55451-881-4 (html), ISBN 978-1-55451-882-1 (pdf).
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Chris Laurie.
I’m not sure why they were crying, but I was crying because I didn’t want a baldy mom. Bald was all right for people like Harry Hill, but not my mom. When we’d stopped crying I realized she still hadn’t told me where the cancer was.
“Where is it?” I asked.
Susie opened her mouth to speak. “It’s…”
“I’m not asking you,” I said through my teeth. “I’m asking Mom.”
“Breast cancer,” Mom said in a very small voice. “It’s in my…”
“No!” I shouted.
No. No. No. NO! Anything but that. Anything but the B word. How could she do this to me? Now everybody would be saying the word “breast” all the time as if it were some ordinary everyday word like “teapot”. Why couldn’t she have bowel cancer instead? On second thought, maybe not. I didn’t want people to be imagining Mom on the toilet. Lung cancer, maybe? No, people died of that all the time on TV. What about toe cancer or ear cancer? I could live with that.
Philip’s typical preteen life is disrupted when his mother tells him that she has cancer. His go-to place is humour, humour that he has learned from his idol, British comedian Harry Hill. It’s worked until now to help him cope with the school bully, with his crush on “The Goddess” Lucy, and with the next door neighbour’s “savage” Chihuahua.
Those storylines fall aside while Philip, his mother and her best friend Susie try to cope with the emotional and medical ramifications of the disease. While ‘laughing at cancer’ is a recognized way of coping, it can be challenging to balance the two in a successful narrative.
Scattered through the novel are letters Philip writes to Harry Hill, updating him on Philip’s life and, occasionally, asking for his advice. The letters remain unanswered. Determined to use her illness as a challenge to improve both her life and other’s lives living with cancer, Philip’s mom starts a support group. So that Philip will feel included, she invites him to come and tell “the girls” his best jokes to cheer them all up. It isn’t long before the group has a name: The Harry Hill Appreciation Society. And they’re planning a big fund-raising bash to create a mobile cancer help unit.
This pre-teen novel is a quick read. Subplots are neatly, if suddenly, resolved. There is minimal character development as secondary characters are not fleshed due to the focus shifting from Philip’s “typical” boy’s life to one centered around a major health issue. The Best Medicine is a well-written story but struggles with finding a palatable balance between a serious issue and a preteen’s humour.
Christine Hamill and her son Callan live in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This is her first novel for youth and is loosely based on their real-life experiences living with cancer. She is also the author of a nonfiction book for adults, B is for Breast.
Recommended with Reservations.
Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at the Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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