Fran, a fourteen-year-old from New York, is finally allowed to spend a month of her summer vacation with her aunt of Cape Cod. As yet she is unaware that her parents have put off such a visit because her aunt, a lively, empathetic teacher, has a long-term lesbian partner. Among Fran’s new acquaintances is a girl her age, Wilma, who is confined to a wheelchair and, apparently because of the way her disability sets her apart, as well as her famous father’s divorce and remarriage, is extremely demanding and difficult.

Wilma’s stepmother hires Fran to be Wilma’s "companion" a few hours a day while she rests, being in the final stages of her first pregnancy. With the help of some pivotal conversations with her aunt and a new friend, Jack, Fran finds her way through her own anger and bewilderment at Wilma’s behavior to the beginning of an authentic friendship with her, as well as an understanding of the imagination caregiving demands. Along the way she becomes aware of her aunt’s lesbianism and finds that her other experience has helped open her to acceptance of this difference as well.


This is among the best of young adult novels that focus on illness and caregiving. The stages in Fran’s coming to terms with Wilma’s difficulties and her own resistances and assumptions are convincingly represented, the subplots (discovery of the aunt’s lesbianism and emerging romance/friendship with Jack) well integrated, and both main characters sufficiently complex to keep readers reassessing their judgments.

Finally, the reader, too, must grasp that the chronic anger of a neglected and disabled child is understandable and forgivable, although at the same time one need not assume such children have no accountability to the normal terms of the social contract. Exquisitely balanced, the book offers much food for thought and discussion. This is a good novel to use in groups where young people might be led to explore their own experiences of coping with difference.



Place Published

New York