Thursday, June 5, 2014

Why Me?

By Deborah Kent. Published 1992.

Let’s stick with a little ballet theme, shall we? Even though that’s not really what this book is about.

I freaking loved this book when I was younger. It’s not quite Lurlene McDaniel, but close. But recently, I could not for the life of me remember the name of this book. But after quite a few Google sessions, I finally got it. Even though the name still doesn’t seem right to me, but this is the book.

So Rachel is a pretty serious ballet student, but the last few classes she’s barely been able to keep up. She’s really sluggish. And, as Lurlene readers, we all know that’s not going to be good.

She goes to her friend Lici’s house after class. There, Lici gets all the members of her large family to see if they can roll their tongues. It’s for a science project on genes and heredity. Rachel starts getting pissy about it though, saying she can’t do the project. Lici asks why, and Rachel drops the bomb that she’s adopted.

She’s known since she was little, and her parents made it seem special. But she felt less special once they had a biological daughter of their own, Phoebe. But as they grew older, Rachel got over it, seeing that Phoebe gets no special treatment. She still notes the differences though. The rest of her family all looks alike, while she doesn’t at all, and they’re logically inclined, but complete klutzes.

Rachel tries tongue rolling, and finds she can’t do it. Phoebe, however, can.

The next morning, Rachel wakes up and can’t move. She freaks out, worried that she’s dying. She’s finally able to yell loud enough for her mom, and from there things happen quickly. They get Rachel bundled off to the E.R. right away. There, they run a lot of blood tests and ask her about peeing. Soon enough, they have an answer. Rachel has Henoch Schonlein purpura. Basically, her kidneys have failed, and she has to begin dialysis right away.

She has a really nice nurse, Elena, who explains things better for her. This is something she’ll always have to deal with, unless she gets a kidney transplant. Rachel gets her hopes up at that, until Elena tells her the best donors are a genetic match, like a parent or a sibling. Oh snap. So Rachel goes back into a funk.

Elena also explains that she can come into the hospital three days a week, or learn to do dialysis at home herself. The first treatment does indeed make her feel better, so she decides she wants to learn how to do it herself, without her parents help.

Rachel has a “small surgical procedure” to have a tube inserted in her belly to make dialysis easier, no more needles. Rachel doesn’t love it though, she can’t wear anything form fitting, like leotards, without it bulging.

She finally gets to go home though, once she’s learned to take care of herself. She’s still pretty angry about having to live with this, though. Poor thing barely gets to eat or drink anything anymore, mainly just starches, like pasta and rice.

Rachel tries to get back into her normal life, including ballet, but it’s not working very well. She just can’t do what she used to. Her teacher doesn’t even push her, just telling her it’s “good enough, under the circumstances.” Ouch. That’s frustrating.

She continues to go in for appointments with Elena, to make sure things are going ok. She expresses her frustrations to her, and Elena tells her she’ll never feel 100% on dialysis. They talk a little more about a kidney transplant. Her mother even gets frustrated, saying that it’s not fair that Rachel will only get second best, meaning a cadaver kidney, because she’s adopted.

Rachel decides to quit ballet. When she gets home from doing so, she’s feeling so shitty, she decides to cheat, and have cherry pie a la mode, and a big glass of milk. But the phone stops her. It’s a woman from New England Children Services. Rachel knows exactly what this must be. They had lived in Connecticut until a year prior. When her mother gets home, Rachel tells her the adoption agency called, and she’s pretty upset about it, since it is about her, after all. Her mother explains that there’s nothing to tell yet, but she will tell her everything from now on, if she wants.

It is a slow process, though. At first the agency doesn’t know her mother’s name. Then they know it, but can’t tell them. Frustrating. Rachel talks it over with Lici, and allows herself to fantasize about her mother.

Rachel dreads going home any more. There’s a lot of tension in the house, and Rachel knows she’s the cause of it. So she spends a lot of time just hanging around after school. In the library one day, she meets Melanie, who she never talked to before. Melanie is sighing, saying she wishes she could draw. She has to do the cover of the yearbook. Rachel says she can kind of draw, so she gets wrangled into doing it.

She does a good job, and she’s convinced to help the yearbook committee some more. She actually has a lot of fun at their meeting. Then they work on this thing they do at their school, the Eighth Grade Last Will and Testament. Eighth graders “leave” something personal to a seventh grader. That’s fucking morbid.

For weeks, Rachel sees all these women she thinks could be her mother. And then one day, they get a phone call. It’s a woman named Vera Stasic, and Rachel just knows it’s her mother. And it is. Her two mothers talk, and they decide Vera will come to town the next week, and meet them. That all just came out of nowhere.

So the appointed day arrives, and so does Vera. It’s awkward, and they don’t really get to know each other. But Vera says she’s like to spend the next day alone with Rachel, getting to know her. So they spend the day wandering around downtown Chicago, and really start to have fun with each other. Then they sit and talk. Vera answers all her questions, and Rachel learns a lot. Then Vera tells her she’s decided to go through with the transplant.

So three months later, they’re checking into the hospital, and they go through the transplant procedure the next day. Rachel’s pretty out of it afterwards, but the next day, she pees for the first time in forever. Huzzah!

They’re still stuck in the hospital for a while, and Rachel and Vera get really close. People mistake them for sisters, and Rachel agrees that’s what it feels like. Rachel’s mom looks a little jealous at one point, and she warns Rachel not to get too attached.

Vera goes home to California, but she’ll be back in Chicago in a few months for work. Rachel gets back to her normal life, even restarting ballet after her stiches are all healed. She feels great, and is reveling in normal food again. She writes to Vera all the time, telling her about her life. Vera responds, but not as often or with as long letters.

It’s almost time for Vera to return, and Rachel wants to give her something. She decides to make a scrapbook of Rachel growing up. Her mom even decides to send along a framed baby picture. Guess she’s over the jealousy.

Vera is really busy with work, but they can meet for dinner. And it’s a bit awkward. They keep running out of things to say. But Rachel gives Vera the presents, and she loves them.

Rachel realizes she’s ready to let Vera go. They’ll keep in touch, but Rachel knows she already has a mom. So they say goodbye, with Vera promising to come back soon.

o   I’m not exactly sure why I loved this book so much. It’s ok, but nothing special. I guess I probably liked all the drama with everything going on, without all the maudlin Lurleneiness. Oh well, I’m glad I was finally able to find it again anyway.


  1. The teacher assigned Last Will and Testament to a girl with a potentially life-threatening condition? O_o You can tell it's an older book just by that detail. It would have been weird twenty years ago, but unthinkable nowadays, with all the awareness of teen suicide.

    1. Well, it was something the whole grade did, but the four person committee Rachel was on had to organize it, and make up things for those who didn't fill it out. But, yeah. Fucking weird.