Sunday, December 30, 2007
Side Effects by Amy Goldman Koss
Izzy Miller is your normal fifteen year-old, until she discovers swollen glands on her throat. After a visit to the doctor, she is sent to the hospital for x-rays. She’s not worried about anything being really wrong with her until the doctor calls and says she has to go to Children’s Hospital right away. Izzy has lymphoma and with those words her life changes.
Once at the hospital, things happen frighteningly fast. Amy Koss does a wonderful job portraying the confusion both Izzy and her parents feel as information and test results are thrown at them. Although she is fifteen and by most accounts a young adult, this is just too much for her to take in. The only decision she gets to make is whether or not to get a PICC line, and I’m not sure that was truly an informed decision. As time goes by, she gets chemotherapy treatments and goes through all of the side effects that hit chemotherapy patients.
For the past nine months, I’ve been tutoring a young girl with cancer, and I approached this book with some trepidation. Would Izzy’s experiences feel too close after seeing my student under many months of truly grueling chemotherapy? Because I had a real-life person to compare Izzy’s experiences to, I can say that Koss was spot-on in what going through chemotherapy is like. The mouth sores (and now I understand why mouth sores are so common), the hair loss, the nausea, the failure of the anti-nausea medications – all of these were experienced by my student in the past few months.
There is so much that is good to this book. The only thing I can think of that might seem negative is that the ending seemed rushed, and yet if Koss had extended it, what could she have added? The routine of going to the hospital to get chemotherapy, feeling awful for days, and finally getting to feel better just before the next round of chemotherapy is due is just that – routine. The book could have easily gotten boring if Koss had gone on and on with Izzy’s treatment.
I also like the fact that there is no doubt that Izzy is going to survive her cancer (the cover blurb says so). This isn’t one of the millions of books in which the teenage character fights valiantly and then looses the battle with cancer – this is a book in which something bad happens to someone and she learns how to handle it and work through it. For those thousands of children diagnosed with cancer who go through the hell of treatments and come away cured, this book is perfect.
When I was young, I loved the book Something for Joey, the story of John Cappelletti’s brother Joey who died of leukemia. As I recall, there was never much hope that Joey could survive his cancer. Fortunately, today cancer is often cured and we need to recognize and celebrate the advances that have been made. Side Effects does that.