This is a pre-cancer scene. Melissa’s hair should be a hell of a lot longer!!!!
Well, folks, it’s about that time again. Time for another installment of death-porn for teens. Or, as it may be more commonly known, Lurlene McDaniel novels. (Also lovingly called the Lurleneverse.)
In this installment, Too Young to Die, we begin with some horribly executed exposition through dialogue between our protagonist, 16 year old Melissa Austin, and her best friend, Jory Delaney. (Dialogue exposition = my pet peeve, it’s always awkward). And what do we learn? That 1- Jory is rich, 2- Jory has a big crush on Melissa’s older brother Michael, 3- Michael doesn’t love Jory back the way she lurves him, and 4-that Melissa is a very serious student with her heart set on becoming a National Merit Scholar and going to Princeton. Also, we learn that Melissa has been feeling achy and has been bruising easily. If only Melissa knew she was part of the Lurleneverse, she’d know what her aches and pains and bruises meant.
Melissa is so smart that even though she’s only a Junior, she’s been specially selected by one of her teachers to try out for the Brain Bowl team. This is very serious business including two rounds of tryouts to select a five person (three regulars and two alternates) team to send to competitions. Oh Melissa, stop getting your hopes up, you’re a Lurlene protagnoist. We know your fate is far sadder than winning academic trophies.
Then we segue into yet another round of dialogue exposition where we learn that Melissa’s dad left them several years ago, leaving her mom to scramble for a job and to raise two kids on her own. The mom has done all right and Melissa and Michael have turned out great. But mom had always had her heart set on being a cookie-baking stay at home mom. (Because she was FORCED into the working world, she’s an OK mom in the Lurleneverse. Unlike those terrible mothers who also chose careers. Selfish bitches.)
Guess who’s also been selected to try out for Brain Bowl? Brad Kessing. Who’s Brad Kessing, you ask? He’s only the handsomest boy at all of Lincoln High. He has blue eyes and blond hair and, no kidding, he gives Melissa a “tingling sensation.” One day Melissa is at the country club with Jory (because Jory’s rich, you know) and who do they see but Brad Kessing. And Brad super-creepily hits on Melissa. And may or may not threaten her with rape (*see comments below), which she finds just awesome. Oh, and Brad loves playing with Melissa’s hair (*cough gay *cough) which is waist-length and a beautiful dark brown color. Oh Melissa, if only you knew your fate, you wouldn’t be so prideful of that hair. After the first round of try-outs, both Melissa and Brad are in the top ten final spots for the Brain Bowl team.
Until one sad day, the guidance counselor (actually, the Dean of Women. What the fuck is a Dean of Women at a public high school?) calls Melissa in to her office to ask about the bruising the gym teacher spotted on her legs and arms. The Dean of Women patronizingly asks Melissa about why her parents beat her. And Melissa is aghast that anyone thinks her sweet mama could be doing that to her. So Melissa runs away, leaving school without permission.
Her mom sends Melissa to the doctor to get checked out, assuming it’s probably just a little anemia. And the doctor does not like what he sees. Melissa has to go to the hospital for a few days for tests, and for someone so smart, she’s oddly not that curious about what they’re testing for. She really believes she’s in the hospital to be tested for anemia, mono or rheumatism. But we know that those diseases aren’t serious enough to cut the mustard in the Lurleneverse. They have to do a bone marrow aspiration, which sounds pretty painful and gross. Melissa meets Ricter “Ric” Davis, a one-legged nineteen year old cancer survivor who is creepy on a Brad Kessing level. He tells her the diagnosis from the bone marrow aspiration hurts a lot more than the aspiration itself. To which Melissa is all “OMG. What kind of diagnosis could it be??”
Leukemia, Melissa. That’s what. Lymphomatic leukemia to be exact. And Ricter Davis tells Melissa it’s a pity about her hair. Melissa is all OMG What about my hair??? Yep and yep. She’s gonna lose the long gorgeous locks to the chemo treatments. And Jory comes to visit Melissa a lot, making her one of the least objectionable people ever in the Lurleneverse, and cuts Melissa’s hair really short. Because she understands that Melissa would rather lose the hair on her own terms rather than on cancer’s terms. Then Michael comes in and completely flips his shit over Jory cutting Melissa’s hair – to the point that he nearly hits Jory over it. Jebus, Michael, over-react much?
Melissa starts treatment, which includes lots of chemo. She also sees a psychiatrist who specializes in adolescents with diseases (he’s never out of work in the Lurleneverse). They work on doing visual imaging. Melissa has problems with it initially, which Ricter Davis is so kind to make her feel like shit about. Oh, and Brad Kessing calls her exactly one time the whole time she’s in the hospital. Melissa convinces Jory to talk to the teachers and let them know she’s still interested in trying out for Brain Bowl. And she certainly doesn’t intend to miss out on taking the PSATs. Anyway, Ricter Davis is discharged on a day when he’s feeling pessimistic. Michael buys Melissa a diary. Melissa tells him that she’s working on visualization techniques, using Michael’s hot air balloon.
Melissa is ready to start maintenance treatments and is released to go home. She can’t go back to school quite yet, but she does manage to sneak out one Saturday for the PSATs. After the PSATs, Melissa and Jory go to a drive through for milkshakes when they see Brad Kessing – with another girl. Sadness – but not for long because Ricter Davis calls her to find out how she’s doing.
Things are going good for Melissa. Her bloodwork looks good. She goes wig shopping with Jory and gets a new ‘do. She scores in the 98th percentile on the PSATs, making her eligible for a National Merit Scholarship. Jory, who is smart but lazy, scores in the 75th percentile. Back at school, it’s kind of bad. Students avoid her and don’t know what to say. Brad is definitely dating what’s-her-face that he was at the milkshake place with. Melissa is feeling trapped between the world of the sick and the world of the healthy and is unsure where she fits in.
She does have to go to the hospital for continued treatments, and visits with a little four year old girl, Rachael, who has taken a shine to her. Rachael colors Melissa pictures and they talk a lot. Rachael has a brand new baby sister, but she wishes Melissa was her sister. If only Melissa knew, she wouldn’t get so close to this little girl.
Back at school, Melissa’s favorite teacher says that she’s rooting for Melissa for the Brain Bowl team, but let’s it slip that the other teacher advisors aren’t crazy about the idea of a sick girl on the team. Which infuriates Melissa, because she’s the strongest math competitor and past competitions have always been math-heavy. And, you know, because she doesn’t like being fucking judged for having cancer, which is fair enough. And on a personal level, Ricter Davis comes and looks for her at her high school. And she begins dating him. Which Jory thinks is great. Melissa really likes him because he understands her. But mom and Michael are skeeved by the three year age difference (sixteen to nineteen), though she is not forbidden to date him.
One day Melissa goes back to the hospital for blood work and goes to visit Rachael. Only to discover that Rachael had died that morning. And Melissa realizes a bunch of things, including that she wants to break up with Ricter Davis and go back to concentrating on school. She goes to school and stands up to the teachers who want to let her cancer keep her off the Brain Bowl team and they all suddenly change their tune.
Then Jory buys Melissa a new wig, that looks exactly like her old hair. Same color and same length. It’s real hair, because you know Jory’s rich. And Michael is so overwhelmed by this move (he REALLY cares about his sister’s hair!) That he suddenly looks at Jory with more interest. Which makes Melissa happy for some reason. The end.
- OK, the whole Brad rape-y thing. He’s just so creepy, telling Melissa that he always gets what he wants. He wants to be a Rhodes Scholar, and Melissa says she hopes he gets it. He says, “I always get what I go after.” Then he’s all caressing her hair and neck. *shudders* He assures Melissa she’ll make the first cut for Brain Bowl and she asks how does he know. “Because I’m going to make the first cut and I want you to come with me” Then he unbraids her hair, dragging his fingers through it and whispers “God, you have beautiful hair.” His voice sounds “worshipful.” Brad is fucking creepy, I tell ya.
- And the one time Brad does call Melissa in the hospital, it’s before her diagnosis and he makes a vague sexual innuendo using the term “private study session.” Barf.
- Why would the Dean of Women assume Melissa is being beaten by a parent at home? I know bruises are a warning sign. But you’ve got a student who is known to come from a single-mother household. Don’t you think that at Melissa’s age, they’d more likely be asking about those bruises coming from a boyfriend than from mom? And also, don’t you think they wouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions? Maybe they’d ask Melissa if she’d been in an accident, which is an equally valid reason to have bruising as domestic violence? And wouldn’t they not act so patronizingly bitchy to someone they believe is a victim of domestic violence?
- In the Lurleneverse, a family that falls too far outside of the comfortably middle-class to upper-middle class is no good. Poor people obviously just suck as human beings. And rich people just care too much about money. That’s why Jory spends so much time at Melissa’s house. Her parents are too rich to care too much about her.
- In the Lurleneverse, everyone is white and Christian. This book takes place in Tampa, FL. Which, according to wikipedia has a population of approximately 64% white, 26% black and 22% Hispanic. Funny how Jory and Melissa don’t know anyone outside that 64%. And the book is specific that it takes place IN Tampa, not in a metro suburb, but actually in the city.
- Ricter Davis wants Melissa to spend spring break with him in Sarasota. Where he wants to make love to her. Melissa considers it because when she’s making out with Ricter Davis, and he “strokes the contours of her body,” she “feels like satin inside.” She doesn’t go. Instead she breaks up with him. To be perfectly fair, Lurlene could have made this into an OMG!!! Premarital secks is the devil moment. But she didn’t. Melissa actually did consider it and her reasons for breaking up with Ricter Davis had nothing to do with the fact that he wanted to bang one out. It was more about how her priority before cancer was school, and she felt like being sick gave her an excuse to lose sight of those priorities. So anyway, good on Melissa. moment.
- Heh. The pediatric ward is described as having a “gay circus theme.” And you don’t even want to know what I imagine those clowns on the wall paper doing. (And I suddenly have the urge to Google the phrase “gay clowns having sex.” Or “gay clown blow job.” But I swear I’ll fight that urge. And even if I don’t, I’m not going to post any pictures here.)
- This whole visual imaging thing as part of Melissa’s treatment actually kind of bothers me. For one thing, there’s no scientific evidence that it actually works. And it puts the onus of getting well on the victim of the cancer, not on the doctors. So, in other words if Melissa’s chemo didn’t work and she actually was dying, she could not only worry about dying, but worry about whether or not she is playing a part in her dying by not having tried harder to visualize. I mean, it’s nice to have hope for getting better, but false hope is the opposite of helpful. Do you know what hope is? Hope is a bastard. Hope is a liar, a cheat and a tease. If hope comes near you, kick its backside. Got no place in days like these.
- See you in December!