BSC fans–don’t worry, there will be more BSC snark (Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls is next week). Due to the wealth of terribly written tween/teen books from the time period, though, I’m going to alternate in other books. Let’s not spare Sweet Valley High, Christopher Pike, or other books that deserve a snarky review.
This week? Six Months to Live by Lurlene McDaniel (at Amy’s suggestion). If you worried that every moment of fatigue and every unexplained bruise meant you had cancer, you’ve read this book and/or the rest of Lurlene’s oevre.
I’ve decided to try to do single entry snark instead of a chapter by chapter retell. Please give feedback in comments.
Six Months to Live by Lurlene McDaniel
Originally published 1985
Our book opens with a doctor telling Dawn Rochelle she has cancer. Oh, good–let’s not bother with establishing characters or trying to make us interested in them, and get right to what we’re here for–Dawn has cancer. Cue parental shock, including
“We thought it was just the flu,” her father gasped.
I may not be the parent of a child who has/had cancer, but I am a parent. And anyone who wants to run tests on my kid explains what the tests are and what they’re looking for first. Are her parents dumb, or in denial?
A kid! That’s what I am, Dawn thought. She was a kid, just two months over her thirteenth birthday…a seventh grader…cheerleader for Adams Junior High…daughter of Pete and Meggie Rochelle…kid sister of Rob Rochelle…super fan of Michael Jackson…collector of teddy bears…a resident of Columbus, Ohio…and now, a victim of cancer
This tells you all you need to know about what kind of ride we’re strapping in for. This is exactly how 13 year old children talk. Unless they’re from THE SOUTH–but we’ll get there later. If you want a drinking game to get through this book (or any McDaniel book)–and you might–take a shot every time a child uses weirdly out of date language. I feel like Lurlene was about as hip to teenage culture in the 1980’s as I am to the teen culture of 2014.
Dawn has to go to the hospital RIGHT NOW. This afternoon. Her pediatrician who apparently sent blood samples to the lab without consulting anyone (HIPPA violation!) has also “made arrangements” for her to get admitted right away. He is drunk with power. Her parents are speechless, and Dawn is asking all the questions, which is totally how my children’s doctor’s appointments go.
Suddenly, she felt like a white rat trapped in science experiment…caught in a maze of mind-boggling proportions…a maze with no exit…a rat with no future.
I’m not editing the quotes. The ellipses are as written. Drinking Game #2-Take a shot every time you see one.
Dawn’s father wants a second opinion, in a startling show of parental involvement. Her mom pooh-poohs this, saying they’ll get lots of opinions at the hospital. I don’t think her mom understands how hospitals work.
Dawn sits and is emo, wondering what she’ll tell people. Kid, you’re not Stacey McGill, and cancer is a lot harder to hide than diabetes.
Then this happens
Rob…Dawn pictured her brother. He was so big and broad across his shoulders—
Dawn, don’t make me invoke The Flowers in the Attic Law.
They get to the hospital and the nurse tells her that she has a roommate, Sandy, who’s “a real doll,” and that “everybody likes her.” Dawn is has angst about the idea of a roommate because how dare the cancer floor of the hospital be full of cancerous kids.
The oncologists visit the room and introduce themselves to the family. Pages of explanation about cancer. I’m betting this is why so much of Lurlene’s fanbase were hypochondriacs. The oncologist then tells her she can be an outpatient, and she then spends roughly 50+% of the book (more or less) in the hospital. For all that her descriptions of how cancer and chemo work seem pretty correct (minus advances in tech over the past 20 years) Lurlene’s understanding of “outpatient” could use some work.
“Dr. Sinclair,” Dawn’s mom asked quietly. “What if we decide to skip all this therapy and just take Dawn home?”
The blue-eyed doctor surveyed her and said “That would be very unwise, Mrs. Rochelle. Untreated, ninety percent of all leukemia victims die within the year.”
Guys, I don’t want to ruin the moment of supreme parental stupidity, but raise your hand if you can smell the foreshadowing.
Dawn tells us that “Dr. Sinclair hates cancer.” Unlike all those other oncologists who just love them some cancer?
She brushed her long, auburn hair and tied it up in a pony tail. “So,” she told her reflection, “in a few weeks I may be bald.” It bothered her a lot. It had taken her years to grow her hair past her shoulders.
If I taught a literature course, I could use this book as an example of what heavy handed foreshadowing looks like.
The mysterious Sandy comes back from chemo sick, pale, and sleeping. We’ll meet her and her hillbilly accent bright and early tomorrow morning.
The girls become insta-friends in the a.m. Dawn comments on how Sandy looked like shit the night before.
“I know. The first time, my daddy got so upset that he almost took me out of the hospital that night!” Sandy said. She gave a smile of remembrance and said, “My daddy’s like that. Cant’ stand to see anythin’ hurtin’ his little girl.”
So this is the first book in a five book series about Dawn Rochelle. Unless the rest of the books are about Dawn’s ghost haunting her sexy sexy older brother, I’m guessing she makes it out alive. Anyone want to place odds on Sandy?
Also–if you need to get drunk really fast because this book is getting painful try Drinking Game #3 –do shots the second anyone from WV ends a word with in’. You’ll be unconscious within pages.
A “psychotherapist” breaks up all the bonding to teach them how to do “Imaging.” Dawn pictures an army of teddy bears fighting her cancer. Sandy is skeptical, which I interpret as a decrease in Sandy’s odds of makin’ it out of this book alive.
Dawn then asks if she can pray for God to take the cancer away as well. Which, fine, except I’ve done my homework on McDaniel and let me warn you she’s got a hard on for The Bible and Traditional Gender Roles. That Sandy doesn’t ask about prayin’ or pray with Dawn is just another big red flag. Why was I shocked that she dies when I was a kid?
Dawn’s friends come and visit her and it’s awkward, which seems pretty true to life. There’s actually a great exchange between Dawn and Sandy after (if you can overlook the stilted language and the hick accent) about how regular people just don’t get it. My elder daughter was quite sick when she was a baby, and after she got out of the hospital, we joined a mom/baby group. It was all kinds of awkward and uncomfortable whenever her illness was the elephant in the room.
Just as the emo music swells, the topic of boys comes up.
Sandy has been kissed by a boy (seriously, Sandy, why not paint a target on yourself?) and that it was “real sweet, like he meant it.” I’m glad that Sandy understands that he meant it because I’m an erotica author and I have no clue what that means. Is that code for tongue? That he took you to the county fair first? That he got a hard on? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Now when my husband kisses me, I wonder how I’ll know if he means it?
Dawn wishes that Jake had kissed her because he probably won’t when he sees her and that no one will ever want to kiss her. To which I reply—five book series.
Dawn and Sandy go through all the medical stuff together (because everyone in the cancer ward has a roomie whose cancer is identical in every way to theirs?). Dawn meets Sandy’s parents, and realizes that “Mr. Chandler was very angry about Sandy being so sick.” Unlike those parents who do the cancer dance with the cancer loving oncologists that populate the rest of the oncology floor? Dawn is DUMB, people. I wish she was the one who was going to die in this book. Anyway, back to Sandy’s dad, who looked into cancer clinics in Europe and Mexico instead of sendin’ her to Columbus, OH. As a kid I thought he was actually looking into cancer clinics. Now that I’m 35, I know that’s just code for “hospices.”
Violation #2 of The Flowers in the Attic Rule
“You’d give me your bone marrow?” Dawn asked Rob shyly once they were alone.
“Absolutely!” Rob said, chucking her on her chin. “I gave you the chicken pox, didn’t I? I can spare bone marrow for you, too.”
“Thanks,” was all she could whisper. She felt deep gratitude for the love he was showing her. Rob…so big and strong…and healthy.
Rob is big and strong and healthy, guys. See, Lurlene? No use of ellipses! It CAN be done!
Fun times in the hospital ensue. Arts and crafts. Popcorn fights! And then to despoil the beauty of those times, Dawn loses her first lump of hair.
Sandy is losing her hair, too. Sandy’s hair was waitin’ for Dawn’s to fall, so they could shed together. Lurlene has a hair fetish, guys–we get a description of Sandy’s hair and all the hair paraphernalia Sandy owns. Dawn’s mom shows up with a beautician friend who cuts their hair and brings along a bunch of wigs for the girls to play with before they each pick one.
Then comes the portion of the book devoted to cancer treatments and all the ways it despoils Dawn (and Sandy’s) poor bodies. Remission feels a million miles away. Everything will be
emo awful forever, guys. The spends pages giving us excruciating detail of everything poor Dawn goes through, and then tells us that Sandy suffered the same agonies (literally–pages of Dawn, one sentence on Sandy). Thanks for clearin’ that up, Lurlene–I was startin’ to think Sandy might have the fun kind of cancer.
Just when it can’t get any more melodramatic, Dawn gets a fever. But not a fever…a FEVER. The ICU kind of fever, and she’s rushed away. People kind of float in and out, and then Lurlene tells us about a drugged out dream Dawn has while high, where her favorite teddy bear comes to rescue her. Then she’s better, so the bear was a metaphor? Except just before she wakes up, he turned into the boy she wanted to kiss, so Dawn is a closeted furry? I…just…don’t…know…what…Lurlene….means.
Aw, Sandy drew Dawn a picture of her Imagin’ picture–a teddy bear army defeatin’ cancer. The girls are so happy to be reunited.
“And we’re going to celebrate with a reunion every year after we go into remission. So start planning on it!”
I wouldn’t, if I were you.
Sandy Chandler and Dawn Rochelle toasted each other and their futures with styrofoam cups filled with warm pop while the hospital routine settled in around them.
Lurlene likes to refer to her characters by first and last name. At least half the time Dawn is referred to as Dawn Rochelle. Which is oddly formal. There was a boy I went to middle school with whose name was Chris Rodney and we all called him that, but I don’t think that’s common. It took re-skimming the book for me to realize that Rochelle wasn’t part of her first name.
Guys, Sandy is in remission and she’s goin’ home! Yay! Dawn is upset, but at least the letters from Sandy start to arrive a page or so later. Sandy tells Dawn that her parents are treatin’ her like she’s made of glass. I get that, and I think it’s pretty normal, although it probably does suck from the kid’s perspective. The boy that kissed her like he meant it doesn’t seem to mean it anymore and avoids her. Lurlene is actually painting a realistic picture! I’m sure that will give way to melodrama soon.
The Psychotherapist (I think? maybe a nurse? I don’t care about the main characters, much less the secondary ones) tells Dawn she should go to cancer camp that summer. Which is the cue for, two pages later, Dawn’s cancer to go into remission.
As Dawn drove home with her parents, she understood how Rip Van Winkle must have felt when he’d awakened form his years of long sleep
Yes. Highly accurate. When Ellie was in the hospital, we lived there. When we left with her, it was almost a month later, and everything had gone from Halloween to Christmas. It was freaky. Except for Dawn it went from April to mid-July. It’s also strange how her friends act like nothing has happened, which upsets Dawn (although she also doesn’t want to be treated differently). Her friend’s petty shit feels petty to her, and she doesn’t know how to pretend that it isn’t petty.
The psychotherapist sends a cancer camp brochure to Dawn, who considers tossing it. Dawn decides to go, but only if Sandy can.
We’re off to cancer camp! Apparently the camp was only for Ohio residents, but the oncologist had gotten Sandy special permission to go. The girl’s hair is growing back magically fast because Lurlene wants to talk about hair again.
Camp has an opening ceremony with “Indians” wearing “buckskin and feathers of an ancient Ohio tribe” canoeing to the shore and then “with a cry and whoop” light the fire. They have this ceremony to “pay tribute to them (Native Americans).”
Cancer camp is just wonderful….awesome…great…. There are these two gorgeous boys who like Sandy and Dawn and it’s perfect how Sandy and Dawn are each crazy for the boy that Lurlene has assigned them. You know they’re having a great time because there are so! many! exclamation! points! Until we learn that Mike-who is assigned to Sandy-is missing a leg. Good thing the girl who is surviving this book got the intact boy, right Lurlene?
Let’s not dwell on that because Cancer Camp is FUN! Let’s have a zany antic where the four of them go to the director’s cabin in the middle of the night and pelt him with water balloons, steal his boxes, embroider them elaborately with flowers, and run them up a flag pole all in the same night. Those kids are so wacky! My favorite part is when one of the boys screams “bonsai!” as he throws his water balloon. I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean the elaborately trimmed little tree. I can’t actually find a reference to the actual slang term from the 80’s to get a correct spelling of the slang term meant. But that typo was the funniest part of the escapade for me in what otherwise felt like a retread of a prank that would’ve felt at home in the Haley Mills version of “Parent Trap.” Also-Sandy must be amazeballs good at embroiderin’ to have done the kind of detail described in just one night, too.
The night before the end of camp
Pedro Mendez performed a break dancing routine that caused everyone to howl with delight.
The ethnic person did an ethnic thing for the amusement of the white people! Lurlene has never had a non-white friend. Just write white people, Lurlene. It’s so much better that way than this racist crap. Not that your white people are going to win any awards for well rounded portrayals.
“D-do you think we’ll all be here next year?” she asked, scanning the faces that had grown so familiar to her during the last two weeks.
That whole racist moment with the “Indians” at the start of camp? There was also a bit about mixing last year’s opening fire ashes with this years, including all the ones for kids who died. Dawn is DUMB and Lurlene is HITTING you with the FORESHADOWING stick at this point. BEATING you with it. NO. Sandy is going to die because you have a five book series, Dawn.
Back home and back to school. OH NOES! Sandy is out of remission.
You should see my poor daddy! He’s a basket case. He’s talked to Dr. Sinclair a couple of times, and Dr. Sinclair wants us to come back to Columbus right away. He says that we might have to think about a bone marrow transplant. Boy! Did that set my daddy off!
Now he’s talking about taking me to some clinic in Mexico.
Raise your hands if you think Sandy is headin’ to the warm Mexican embrace of hospice care. YUP. Not long after there’s another letter from Sandy post marked from Mexico.
There’s no chemotherapy either, just lots of fresh food, vitamins and sunshine.
All of which have a 100% success rate of sendin’ leukemia into remission, unlike bone marrow transplants which accomplish NOTHIN’.
Then we get the third and final letter from Sandy
I’m not scared of what might happen to me. At least I don’t hurt all the time. That pleases my daddy ’cause he can’t stand to see me hurting.
Firstly, I’m shocked that the hillbilly fairy allows you to use -ing in your writing. Secondly I wouldn’t be happy that I’m dying and that my daddy is happy that I’m not hurting–I’d be screaming and fighting to get a real motherfucking hospital. Thirdly, I googled end stage cancer and according to a cancer website, end stage cancer hurts like a bitch, which is why they drug you in hospice care. Unless those “vitamins” have a serious dose of morphine, or are crystal meth or something, I call bullshit. Then again, why bring reality into the gorgeous sunset picture of a girl submitting to her father’s wishes and going to be with God when she didn’t have to?
Seconds after Dawn reads the letter she gets a telegram telling her that Sandy’s dead.
HOORAY! The book is almost over. Sad. That’s just so sad.
Sandy’s parents send Dawn a box of Sandy’s stuff. Hair combs (because hair fetish), a popcorn necklace from the super fun cancer floor arts and crafts days, Sandy’s ashes from camp, Sandy’s diary (which sadly doesn’t include any entries about “my idiot dad is sentencing me to death!” but does include Mike’s picture in an entry talking about how she wants to do more than kiss him next summer,
the slut), and a page from the bible with that insipid “to everything there is a season” verse all marked up.
Dawn pondered the page for a long while. It was true. Sandy’s “season” was over. She’d gone home to God. The thought brought Dawn great comfort and made her more determined than ever to live her own “season” to its fullest. She shut the box and put it away on the shelf.
In the remaining three or so pages we see that Dawn is living her “season”–back in cheer leading and Jake (aka healthy boy) likes her! Hooray!
Remember how I touched on Lurlene being a certain flavor of Christian? Yeah. We need to talk about that before I can end the post. You know how I knew Sandy was going to die apart from the “it’s a five books series” thing? Sandy doesn’t ask about prayin.’ She has already made out with a guy and doubles that before the book is over. She even admits that she’s goin’ to go further next year durin’ cancer camp. Her mom over-ruled her dad, so you know that’s going to come back and bite the family on the ass. But when she lets go and lets God, she gets to die and teach Dawn a Very Important Lesson because it’s too late for her. There are books where she does this with a far heavier hand, according to this Lurlene McDaniels snark blog (go read it, it’s hilarious), but this just PISSED ME OFF.
At some point in the future I will buy a physical Lurlene McDaniels book so I can have the pleasure of throwing it at the wall every time she does this–a mom who is a Bad Mom because she works outside the home, where sex has consequences, and god has a plan for those who are good. Because ugh, moralizing.
The only way I can bring myself to read the rest of this series is if you guys promise me that she dies at the end of book five.
Let me know how you liked this format for Snarking Nostalgic!
Next week–Claudia and the Phantom Phone calls.