rating: 4 of 5 stars
Although I was personally caught up in Sam’s story (and yes, crying through the second half), I was distracted by the question of whether or not this book would really appeal to an eleven year old boy. I know there’s an appetite for sob-stories in young girls, but would boys pick this up? I can’t say I know the answer, but one thing consoled me – Sam is really thinking things through. We see his distraught parents trying to cope, and occasionally they come on the scene as realistic, fully-fleshed characters, but Sam isn’t thinking about his approaching death the way they are (although for the first time in a story like this, I found myself identifying with the parents – maybe because Sam is only 11). He’s thinking about whether he could accomplish his goals (I loved the going up the down escalator scene) and what death is really like and how his book will end.
Sam has a fantastic teacher who visits him at home – a personality mainly revealed to us through the experiments and projects she gives Sam – and up until the end she encourages Sam’s scientific thinking and intellectual exploration. Since we know Sam is dying, this is a depiction of learning for its own sake (and not because it will be useful when you grow up) that could really inspire kids. Not in a maudlin “be grateful you have your health” way, or an “if a dying kid is this interested in science, you can be, too” way, but just showing the rewards of using your brain for whatever pursuits interest you. Which is all a long way of saying that the character development makes this more than just a sad, dying child story. Kids who like to ask those big questions will find it compelling. The rest of us might need some Kleenex handy.
Ways to Live Forever was matched up today against Octavian Nothing in the Battle of the Books – while Judge Roger Sutton didn’t quite share my screaming enthusiasm for all things Octavian, he did name Prince O as the winner. The comment I most appreciated was that “If, however, someone asked me for another Kingdom on the Waves, I’d be stuck. It’s a book we didn’t have before and thus offers new possibilities for the books that will come after.”
Speaking of M.T. Anderson, but on a lighter note, I recently stumbled across a link to a truly glorious elegy to a chicken which begs to be read aloud. I found myself quoting it yesterday.