Julie and Samantha have been best friends since they met in a dancing class at age nine. Now, at sixteen, they are closer than sisters, at home in each other's families, sharing everything, imagining their futures together

Julie, who has been feeling unusually fatigued and experiencing hip pain, finds, after several misdiagnoses, that she has diffuse histiocytic lymphoma, a type of cancer. She begins a course of aggressive chemotherapy and with it an inner journey that gradually distances her from family, friends, and in particular Sam--in ways none of them could have predicted.

Love is stretched for all of them beyond where it has had to reach before. There are periods of silence, odd pretenses, and conversations of unprecedented intimacy as Julie, her parents, and her best friend chart their bumpy course through shock and various tactics of accommodation to final acknowledgment that Julie is dying. Julie's own accelerated growth into an enlarged consciousness of the shape of her own life and destiny, and Sam's growth into a kind of emotional and psychological independence she'd never known before are the focus of this story, each girl narrating her own side of the story in alternating chapters.


This novel is beautifully crafted, true to the two central points of view in ways that allow readers to imagine how life and death at sixteen and seventeen might look different than at any other period of development. The various subplots--betrayal by boyfriends, tension with parents, younger siblings, and teachers--add complexity without diverting attention from the nuanced portrait of intimate friendship forced to a depth that couldn't have been anticipated.

Each narrative voice is distinct; each maintains its own quality of honesty, its own peculiar mix of humor, anger, resilience, and passion for life, which for both girls is expressed most directly in their shared passion--dance. The motif of dance, culminating in their last duet performance, provides a symbolic frame that serves subtly to remind the reader of the wordless movements of the spirit through the crises of the body into the mystery of death.

The oncologist comes off rather badly--competent but somewhat unsympathetic. Sam's mother is a problematic figure, going through her own post-divorce confusions. Sickness occurs in a world where people's capacities to sympathize are modified by competing pressures. But love carves its winding channels through complicated lives and converges on the dying girl in ways that remind us, as Virginia Woolf put it, that "love has a thousand faces," not all of them gentle, tender, or wise.


Little, Brown

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