Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dawn Rochelle # 1: Six Months to Live

By Lurlene McDaniel. Published in 1985.

I know I can’t be the only one who was struck with a severe case of hypochondria after reading Lurlene McDaniel’s books. From this book alone, I thought I had leukemia any time I was overly tired and had bruises. And I always have bruises.

We open with Dawn Rochelle and her parents in her doctor’s office, receiving the news that she has leukemia. We go right into a lot of exposition about Dawn; she just turned thirteen, she’s in seventh grade, is a cheerleader, has an older brother, and loves Michael Jackson and teddy bears. She has 103 of them, some with hearts or rainbows sewn on their fronts. Care Bear stare, bitches.

Her father is angry, her mother is scared, and Dawn is a mix of both.  She has to check into the hospital that day. Dawn worries about missing school and what to tell her friends.

She gets settled in her room at the hospital, and learns she’ll have a roommate, Sandy, who also has leukemia. Her doctor, Dr. Sinclair, comes in to talk to Dawn and her parents. He tells her about leukemia, and chemotherapy. She will have to stay in the hospital until they achieve remission. Until then, the chemo will make her sick, make her lose her appetite, and maybe her hair.

That evening, Dawn takes her first dose of chemo. She hopefully tells her nurse she doesn’t feel sick, but the nurse straight up tells her that’s going to change. She also finally meets Sandy, but Sandy is too sick to talk. However, the next morning, it’s Dawn who is the one who’s sick. But Sandy gives her some tips to feel better, and they talk. Sandy is from West Virginia, and her accent is written out, with her dropping all her g’s at the end of words. It’s annoying, but Dawn likes her and her accent.

The girls meet Dr. Kneeland, a psychotherapist. Dawn thinks she doesn’t need a head doctor! But Dr. Kneeland tells them they can fight back against the cancer using Imagery, and the girls are all in.

That evening, a couple of Dawn’s friends visit. It’s weird and uncomfortable, but they tell her her crush, Jake, asked about her. Aww, yeah.

Dawn and Sandy continue with their chemo, and their hair starts to fall out. But Dawn’s mother brings a member of their church to visit, who is a hairdresser. She cuts their hair, and lets them each choose a wig. They have a lot of fun going through them.

One day, Dawn gets an infection, and, barely conscious, is moved into Intensive Care. She fights the infection for two weeks, and finally wins. When she returns to her regular room, she has quite a reception from Sandy and the other kids on their floor. Later, she and Sandy talk about how they’ll be friends even after they go home, and make plans for when they’ve both been in remission for five years. Very subtle foreshadowing there, Lurlene.

Yay! Sandy’s in remission and gets to go home. But that means Dawn is all alone with her cancer. Boo. Sandy sends her a letter telling her it’s kind of weird being out, she couldn’t connect with her friends any more.

But yay again! Now Dawn’s in remission and after three months in the hospital, gets to go home herself. But she finds that what Sandy said is true for her, too. She feels that she’s like her friends, but not. At least Jake says hello to her at the movies, that’s a plus.

She gets some info on cancer camp, and decides she’d like to go, but only if Sandy goes, too. She does, and they have a very loud reunion on the first day. That night, there is a bonfire. Before it’s lit, the head guy, Dr. Ben, explains that each of them will take ashes from the fire, and bring them back the next year and toss them into that year’s fire. The kids who have ashes this year toss them in, and some have two boxes, for friends who died over the last year.

Also at the bonfire, two cute guys check out Dawn and Sandy. At the end of the night, they introduce themselves. Greg had leukemia, but is three years into remission, and Mike had bone cancer, which led to him having to have a prosthesis on his leg. The four of them spend all their time together. They pull off a prank on Dr. Ben involving water balloons and underwear up the flagpole. When the two weeks are over, Dawn is sad and misses her friends.

After school starts, Dawn gets a letter from Sandy, telling her her cancer is no longer in remission, and her father wants to take her to a clinic in Mexico. The next few letters come from said clinic. Sandy says she doesn’t hurt, but she doesn’t think she’s getting better. The next thing Dawn gets is a telegram telling her Sandy died. Her parents send Dawn Sandy’s box of bonfire ashes, as well as some other things Sandy wanted her to have.

Back at school, Dawn is back on the cheerleading squad, and crushing hard on Jake. The book ends with the two of them walking to the Video Shak together.

I would like to point out that at no time did anyone say Dawn only had six months to live. 

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