Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling
by Lucy Frank
Middle School, High School Schwartz & Wade/Random 261 pp.
8/14 978-0-307-97974-2 $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-307-97975-9 $19.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-307-97976-6 $9.99
A high-strung teenager faces the emotional consequences of chronic illness in this poignant novel in verse. Narrator Francesca is having a magical night with a summer crush when she becomes so sick she must be hospitalized. Tethered to the bed by IV tubes and monitors, Chess has little distraction from the anxiety and confusion of hospital life: “Young blue-scrubbed docs filing / in like a line of ducklings to gather / round my bed? / Could the ‘patient’ person / they’re talking about be me?” Chess’s timid nature leaves her feeling frustrated and helpless against the myriad dehumanizing experiences essential to intensive medical care, but her roommate — fiery, sharp-tongued, casually profane Shannon — shows Chess another way. Shannon’s toughness and no-nonsense attitude helps Chess process and accept the humiliating incident that brought her to the hospital and empowers Chess to take charge of her health and treatment. The girls’ candid dialogue is printed cleverly along opposite margins, a “curtain” dividing the two. Carefully rendered details (instead of magazines, Chess requests “running shoes, / a black bikini, a bottle of sriracha, / a kite, a Bernese mountain dog”) characterize Chess and Shannon well beyond their shared diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. A sympathetic and illuminating story of illness, friendship, and resilience.
From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.