Based on the author’s family’s story, this novel mixes in equal thirds tears, wit and reassurance amid debilitating illness.
The day her father “won’t stop beeping,” future president Maggie Mayfield begins a memoir of 1988, the year her “cool dude” dad’s multiple sclerosis takes a turn for the worse. Her dad’s MS is as much a presence as his love of Neil Young records; a scene of her mother brushing his teeth is as casual as a kiss on the cheek. Its progression hits hard—suddenly, her dad is unemployed and her mother is exhausted, while her older sisters mess with makeup and boys. Maggie vows to fix her father, but her hardest lesson may be that she can’t; the collision of her bookishness against her dad’s unknowable prognosis is bound to elicit tears (aka “brain sweat”). Tough family bonds ground the story, even under stress, and Maggie’s quirky everyday observations and sibling squabbles relieve tension. Maggie writes of a book that “[b]y the time you reach the end of the chapter, you realize you’ve highlighted every single word because every single word was really important.” Smart, sensitive, sad and funny, Maggie’s memoir reads the same way.
More than an issue novel, Sovern’s debut will be a boon to kids coping with a parent’s illness or the unpredictability of growing up. (Historical fiction. 9-12)