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BOTH SIDES NOW by Ruth Pennebaker Kirkus Star


by Ruth Pennebaker

Pub Date: June 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-8050-6105-3
Publisher: Henry Holt

In this thoughtful, affecting, and often funny story, Pennebaker (Conditions of Love, 1992, etc.) looks at life through the eyes of a naïve girl learning to balance life as her mother struggles with breast cancer. Liza is 15 and firmly believes that a positive attitude brings positive results. She resolutely ignores the stress that her mother’s cancer brings to her own life, writing an advice column full of platitudes in her high school newspaper. But her “voice over” narration reflects her inner conflict, as she reports on her own changing behavior as well as that of those around her. Bringing the essence of these contradictions into a telling line or two, Liza says, “That’s what high school’s like. You never, ever, talk about big problems you’re having. You always go around, protecting yourself, acting like everything’s fine.” Home is like that, too. Everyone is trying to protect the others. Occasionally, Liza’s mom reflects on her side of this struggle, and the reader comes to understand that the family has trapped her into maintaining an upbeat attitude that is as hard to handle as the cancer. When her mother announces that she will refuse a debilitating stem-cell transplant in order to have a higher quality of life, knowing that the cancer will eventually kill her, Liza must abandon her rose-colored optimism. She’s finally able to see her mother’s strength, and through her mother’s love, to gain the strength she needs to cope. This is a subtle, absorbing examination of a girl’s difficult passage into maturity through the voice of one of the truest narrators in the genre. (Fiction. 12+)