Thirteen-year-old Meg tells the story of the summer of her fifteen-year-old sister’s death. One night Molly awakens covered with blood, Meg calls their parents, and Molly goes to the hospital where she remains for weeks, undergoing tests. It takes Meg a long time to let herself realize how bad it is, even after the magnitude of the illness is visible on Molly’s ravaged body.

Much of the medical detail in the hospital scenes makes clear how advanced the disease is, but Meg masks her growing fear with disgust, projecting her fear onto doctors she decides must be using Molly for experiments and exaggerating the seriousness of her condition. Unable to open herself to an empathy that would require both an unusual act of imagination and courage to face grief, Meg focuses on the bizarre visible effects of Molly’s illness and on her own altered daily life. Her oddly "selfish" perspective, understood as a self-protective strategy, makes complete sense.

In the midst of the slow progress of Molly’s leukemia, Meg develops friendships with an old man and a young couple expecting a baby. Both contacts help normalize her world, provide her with "reality checks" and give her a quality of attention her parents can’t manage at the time. After the baby is born, Meg gains a new perspective on the precarious miracle of life and finds the courage to go to the hospital to see Molly, now in the final stages of the disease. Meg and her parents are emotionally reunited in their loss, and in the final chapter Meg reflects on the paradox of healing that doesn’t cover over loss, but allows life to be good again in different terms.


Lowry’s many awards for young adult fiction testify to her gift for representing an adolescent point of view with accuracy and compassion. This well-told story honors the complexity of Meg’s responses to her sister’s illness and death--ranging from horror, to resistance, to self-protective indifference and the need for distraction, to resentment and jealousy, to intense loyalty, compassion, and grief.

One of the best scenes in the book is the dialogue between Meg and her father as he prepares her to see her sister in the hospital shortly before her death; he finds language that helps her grasp the rightness of letting go and letting be in a time when the temptation might be frantically to try to do something more. The book is a valuable story about spiritual resiliency, the importance of community, and what illness demands of families. Unsentimental and finely nuanced, it could be a helpful resource for young people facing bereavement.


Houghton, Mifflin

Place Published