This week, Kate McGovern, whose first novel Rules for 50/50 Chances is new in bookstores today, curated a list of books about the reality of life and mortality. This is another list of books that are all new to me — lots to add to my list. All titles are linked through an affiliate link. Click on the title to go directly to Amazon where I’ll receive a small commission. Thank you.
I know, this sounds like a miserable list. “Hey, it’s getting cold out! Let’s curl up with a steaming cup of tea and a great read about death and dying!” But what is more essentially human and complex than grappling with mortality? Especially for teens, facing a serious illness or the death of a loved one is completely transformative, and I’ve been addicted to books that explore the complexities of those experiences since I was a kid. Here are some old and new favorites:
A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry
This was one of my childhood favorites; I can’t remember how many times I read this book. Meg’s sister is dying from cancer, and she has to cope with both the loss and the fact that they didn’t get along all that well to begin with. I remember Meg’s mix of grief, guilt, longing and jealousy feeling so poignant and real to me as a teen reader.
Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Tessa knows she has just months to live, and she decides to really live during that time—to experience all the new things on her “to do before I die” list. It’s a painful and haunting read, beautifully written and hard to forget. (It also has an exceptionally well-crafted and tasteful first-time sex scene. Those are really hard to write well!)
Blood Matters by Masha Gessan
This is a work of nonfiction that reads like a page-turner. Journalist Masha Gessen takes readers through both her personal journey of being tested for the breast cancer gene and deciding what to do with her results, and a broader exploration of the new frontier of genetic medicine. The chapter on innovations in genetic medicine in the heart of the Old Mennonite community is particularly wrenching and fascinating, I think, as is the chapter on genetic testing among Orthodox Jews. And I learned quite a bit about genetic counseling from Gessen, as well.
Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
In Lisa Genova’s new novel, the author of Still Alice explores what happens to a Boston family when the father is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. Genova is a scientist by training, so this book gives an incredibly in-depth look at the progression of Huntington’s symptoms. It kept me turning the pages late into the night to find out what would happen to the rest of the family as they go through the fraught process of deciding whether or not to get tested for the genetic mutation.
Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern
Well, this one is mine, so all I can say is that I hope it’s hopeful! As 17-year-old Rose watches her mother deteriorate from Huntington’s disease, she must also decide whether or not she wants to know if she carries the genetic mutation for the disease. It’s a heavy, complicated question, and Rose’s confusion is compounded by the grief of witnessing her mother’s decline. But at its core, Rules is about first love, about taking risks and following your heart, and living fully even when you don’t know—or when you do know—what’s around the corner.
Kate McGovern grew up in Cambridge, MA, where she returned to live after a twelve-year hiatus (with stops in New Haven, New York City, London, and the English countryside in-between). RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES is her first novel.
© 2015, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.