Told from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old girl, this story about a single mother with two daughters who moves, marries, and dies of breast cancer handles a variety of difficult issues with sensitivity and spunk. A list of those issues--absent father, new stepfather, a thousand-mile move to a new social environment, first menstruation, sibling rivalry, an uncle with incestuous impulses, family secrets, sexual experimentation, cancer, and death--might make it sound like a catalogue of the trials of contemporary suburban young adulthood, but in fact the point of view of Tilden, the main character, keeps the story grounded in very believable, sometimes amusing, often poignant, recognizable truth about what it is to come into awareness of the hard terms of adult life.

The mother's cancer is narrated largely in terms of Tilden's experience of it: secrecy, eventual disclosure, partial information, losses of intimacy, feelings of betrayal, confusion about caregivers' roles, and in the midst of it all, the ordinary preoccupations of early adolescence. The generous and understanding stepfather and neighbors with limited but ready sympathies lighten some of the novel's darker themes.


The writer pulls no punches; the hard scenes like one in which a live-in uncle makes sexual advances, are told without apology, but with care and sensitivity. On the whole the novel testifies to young girls' capacity for resilience, adaptation, and survival, and to the need for love as the primary fuel that enables that survival. But it also acknowledges the pain and confusion of growing up among disrupted adult lives, witnessing illness, and undergoing the loss, not only in death, but in remarriage and life changes, of a primary birth parent.

The writer, who works as an activist and health educator at a multi-service youth center in New York City, clearly draws upon the immediate access to the lives of young people in which her life and work have involved her. A book by which young people dealing with similar challenges might take some measure of possible strategies of survival in hard times.



Place Published

New York



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