It’s the summer of 1976, and the Babcock sisters are preparing to say goodbye to their terminally ill mother.
There’s musically gifted 16-year-old Vanessa, narrator and middle sister; foulmouthed artist Adrienne; and 9-year-old, saint-obsessed Marie. The white girls spend most of their days at a Mexican clinic where their mother receives infusions of Laetrile—a cyanide-based cancer treatment banned in the States. Their father’s domineering boss keeps him working long hours, leaving the girls to take care of their mother and one another. Caleb, a clinic patient and also white, brings some light into Vanessa’s life when he and his mother, Barb, move into the Babcock’s San Diego home while Caleb undergoes treatment. Then the metaphorical bomb drops: Mom’s diagnosis is more complicated than the girls had thought. Vanessa’s present-tense narration allows her sisters, their father (finally taking a leave of absence), and Caleb and Barb to communicate their feelings through both their conversations with Vanessa and her observations of their actions. It’s rare to find such a large group of characters who are so well-developed as to be almost real, and the prose is eloquent and precise, every word chosen with care.
Not just another addition to the “sick-lit” genre, this debut is hands-down one of a kind. (Historical fiction. 13-18)