Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Arrival of Someday, by Jen Malone

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a transplant center and it was an eye-opening experience.  Few of us understand UNOS, MELD scores, or any of the other constituent parts of how organ transplant works in the United States.  Fewer still the agonies and joys of living (and waiting) for a donor to appear, when the vast majority of recipients will never get matched up.  In The Arrival of Someday, Jen Malone creates a story to explore all of this providing a decent primer to the process and a sophisticated story that respectfully portrays the emotional journey that a potential transplant recipient and their social circle go through.

Eighteen year-old Amelia has a rare liver condition, but she's learned how to make a good life by not letting it define her existence.  Active on local roller derby circuit in Cambridge, ready to start at UMass Amherst in the fall, and making a mark for herself as an artist, hardly anyone knows what she's dealing with because she ignores the disease (and the condition itself stays conveniently in remission). So, when she finds herself in the middle of a roller derby match coughing up blood on the floor, everyone is taken by surprise.

Her condition has turned for the worse and it has become imperative for her to receive a liver transplant.  There are plenty of tests at the hospital, good days and bad days, and struggles as she finds herself sometimes unable to do the things she used to do.  But Amelia has always been a fighter.  Just as she demolishes her opponents on the skate track, she goes after her disease with gusto.  The last thing she wants is for people to treat her as "the dying girl." But as her condition worsens, she has to come to terms with the way that her health doesn't just affect her.  It also involves her friends and her family, finding its way into all of her social interactions and eventually into her own mental health.  Is she really as fearless as she's always imagined?  Or is her bravery simply false bravado?

In sum, a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a young woman dealing with an extraordinary health challenge.  That, in itself, is nothing notable, but this work stands out for the time it spends on Amelia's family and friends.  Amelia's entire family is in this together and the way that this is portrayed is both realistic and makes the story more compelling.  One could draw fault with the messy ending and the sheer number of loose ends that Malone leaves us with, but I was impressed with the complexity of the human interactions portrayed and the messiness of the ending is perhaps the most realistic part of all.

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