Monday, April 20, 2020

Sick Kids in Love, by Hannah Moskowitz

During one of her infusions, Isabel meets Sasha, who's getting his own treatment.  Isabel has rheumatoid arthritis, Sasha Gaucher Disease (a rare genetic disorder).  They'd hit it off right away, but Isabel decided long ago that she wasn't going to date.  Dating is complicated.  Trying to explain herself, her disease, and maintain a relationship is simply too hard.  But with Sasha, it should be easier:  He also has a chronic disease.  He totally gets the paradox that they are both more than their disease, but also defined by it.

Isabel finds that she can relax in his presence.  She even finds herself opening up more to others as a result of the relationship she is forming with Sasha.  He's good for her.

But Sasha also opens Isabel to the realization that her control issues, her fear of making decisions, and her aversion to conflict are not actually related to having a chronic disease, but are in fact unrelated.  She has conveniently looked past and ignored them because she could blame everything on the arthritis.  When Sasha asks her to commit to their relationship, she finds to her own horror that she doesn't know how.  And that is just the start of a series of emotional challenges!

One of the greatest parts of this book is the subtitle ("they don't die in the end") because it completely throws off the trope of these books.  A death would have been convenient.  Once Sasha died, we'd have a teary funeral and Isabel would pick herself up and move on, always keeping the memory of her fleeting romance with Sasha in her heart!  We all would have cried.  Instead, Moskowitz presents us with a much harder ending:  everyone lives and they are both still sick.  That's what a chronic disease is about.  It doesn't ever go away.  Somehow life goes on and when you have a chronic disease and you're young, you have many years before you.  You know that what awaits you are good days and bad days.  Sometimes you will be well, sometimes you'll be in the hospital.  It's not particularly dramatic but it's a hell of a lot more scary.  Watching Isabel come to accept that she wants Sasha in her life and embrace all that that entails makes for some pretty heady romantic stuff!

I loved the growth of Isabel's character, her strength in confronting her demons, and the hugeness of her heart.  This is a really lovely story about two young people in a very difficult place, doing what needs to be done to grasp on to their piece of happiness.  It's an affirming and inspirational story.  Highly recommended. 

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