Cal’s little brother is diagnosed with cancer just as Cal’s magical summer of friendship with a girl his own age comes to a close.
In a first-person narrative set in 1995 near London, Ontario, white, 11-year-old Cal Sinclair describes the change in his relationship with 6-year-old Sammy and his new friendship with Aleta Alvarado. Cal, an avid Goosebumps reader, is an inventive tormentor of his brother, bribing Sammy with “levels” of achievement—Ant to Eagle—for missions like wasps’-nest bothering. Cal is determined to befriend the new girl at church. Aleta, who intensely mourns her deceased mother, is from Mexico (Cal describes her speech as “sing-songy, pretty with only a slight accent”). Cal and Aleta form a strong bond that leaves Sammy behind. When at summer’s end Sammy’s bruises and exhaustion are given a diagnosis—leukemia—Cal is devastated and contrite. A course of chemotherapy turns into what Oliver, an older, long-term patient in the children’s cancer ward, calls the “cancer crumble”: arguments between Cal’s parents that emerge along with despair even before the unhappy diagnosis and recommendation of palliative care come through. Lyttle’s voice for Cal is appealingly direct and articulate, if occasionally outsized—“I imagined a place of absent hair matching absent smiles, cries and moans haunting dark halls and darker rooms”—and his account of his struggle to cope will appeal to readers.
Tender, direct, and honest. (Historical fiction. 9-12)