Jerry, a basketball player, is going with Sheila, who hates Bonnie, who volunteers at the hospital. After bouts of intense, unfamiliar pain, Sheila learns that she has cancer of the ovaries and intestines. Sheila lives with an alcoholic grandmother; Jerry, with a single working mother and sister. The story treats Jerry's desire for sex, his friends' avoidance, and the dilemmas he faces as taking care of Sheila cuts into school and team commitments.

He wonders whom to tell, what to say to Sheila, and how to stick with a girl through defacing illness. He finds he's not in love with her. He's unsure how to handle his own family obligations as he realizes that he's the only "family" Sheila can count on. But he stays with her until the end.

His fidelity has little to do with romantic love, but rather with a larger kind of love he's learning. Sheila's death is partly a relief. Jerry needs to regroup and go on with his life after this cataclysmic hiatus. The going on, it seems, will involve Bonnie, the hospital volunteer whom neither Jerry nor Sheila appreciated until her unseasonable maturity helped them in time of need.


Sheila's Dying is an uncomfortable book to read; its unusual candidness about dysfunctional family life, the raw edges of adolescent relationship, and the squalid details of coping with illness prevent readers from sentimentalizing or romanticizing either Sheila's or Jerry's "heroism." The story offers a thoughtful portrayal of the inner life of a caretaker who finds that a friend's sickness demands that he grow up in ways he didn't count on, doesn't want, and can't refuse. It serves to raise the question of whose obligation it is to care for the sick and the dying. When family fails, others must step in--sometimes people who feel too young, unfit, unready, but find themselves assigned the role with no understudy.


This novel won several awards for young adult fiction.



Place Published

New York