Keil’s (The Girl in the Freezer, 2016, etc.) novel, inspired by true events, tells the story of a teenager’s battle with cancer, as told through impassioned letters to his father.
The author offers a moving, inspired fictionalized re-creation of his 14-year-old son Dustin’s treatment for leukemia more than three decades ago. (The book was written shortly after Dustin was discharged from the hospital, and he’s now in remission.) As an “absent father living in another part of the country” when his son received the diagnosis, Keil says that he found the imaginative writing process to be a powerful kind of therapy. The book begins with Dustin writing a letter to his father, shortly after he’s admitted to the hospital. The missives become more engaged, impassioned, and searingly poignant as the story progresses and the direness of Dustin’s situation begins to sink in. The author consistently demonstrates a talent for portraying the voice and wide-eyed perspective of a teen facing the most trying time of his young life. Dustin’s mother, who initially finds it difficult to even face her son in his hospital bed, is portrayed with grace and striking compassion. Overall, Keil’s imagined depiction of his son’s ordeal comes across as profoundly genuine, and it will be eye-opening for readers who are unfamiliar with grueling chemotherapy treatments; it portrays Dustin’s aversion to needle sticks, his blunt confusion and mounting, displaced anger at his diagnosis, and his blind fear of a hospital stay. Some of the descriptions of medical procedures, even from Dustin’s uninitiated vantage point, will be challenging reading for the faint of heart. The epistolary quality of the narrative impressively and vibrantly encapsulates its protagonist’s emotions and trepidations as he is surrounded by doctors and nurses, deals with cold rooms and intimidating, mysterious smells and sounds, and grapples with an illness that, for a teen, is nearly impossible to comprehend. The story is suitable for both adult and YA readers, and it will be particularly instructive for newly diagnosed leukemia patients.
A heartwarming fictional tribute to a son’s cancer-free life by a grateful parent.