Ish, who is determined to be among the first settlers on Mars, goes on a different and unexpected journey after she is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
She’s prone to long stream-of-consciousness monologues anyway, but after discovery of the tumor that she imagines as a sort of Brussels sprout and starting on chemotherapy and radiation treatments, many of her dreams (and nightmares) focus on her imagined life in a Mars colony. Ish’s only friend, Tig, who moved away a year ago, has never once contacted her since he left. Now she’s a loner, getting along well enough with her adoptive parents but navigating an unpredictable relationship with her next oldest, rather prickly sister, leaving Ish mostly to her own resources to cope with her deteriorating new existence. With many characters, especially resilient, plucky 13-year-old white Ish, broadly painted yet fully realized, this moving tale is nothing short of tragic. Although Ish’s discoveries about friendship, love and life are ultimately uplifting, Rivers (The Girl in the Well is Me, 2016) pulls no punches with the outcome. Ish’s struggles with treatment are vivid, and with the focus solidly on the dying girl, there’s little room for distracting hopefulness.
For those willing to immerse themselves in a sad, harrowing story, this is a worthwhile and affecting odyssey. (Fiction. 10-14)