Ways to Live Forever
Scholastic, 2008 2012 pgs
Written in the form of a diary, we experience the last three and a half month's of the life of Sam, an eleven-year-old boy who is dying from Leukemia. Sam and his friend Felix, who also has cancer, are privately home schooled at Sam's house by Mrs. Willis. She challenges the boys to write a book and this is Sam's result. We see lists of interesting facts of scientific things Sam is interested in and lists of his questions and important facts about himself all within the narrative of his days. The reader also experiences Sam's illness through the eyes of his parents and little sister Ella as they all react and interact with him in different ways. Felix lands back in the hospital, where he passes away and Sam must process Felix's death, as he prepares for his own. Sam ticks off the items on his bucket list, including going up a down escalator, taking a ride in an air ship, and seeing a ghost, both with his friend Felix and then finishing the list on his own. Some of the items are accomplished in unexpected ways, but Sam gets it all done, says goodbye to those who are important to him, and is in a good place for the end.
I read this book as a possibility for my fifth and sixth grade book discussion group. I missed it when it first came out (I tend to avoid depressing books if I can), but one of the kids suggested reading it. This is a great book and an important one to read and have on library shelves, but isn't of general interest to everyone and, because of the sensitive nature of the topic, probably wouldn't be the best choice for book discussion. Nicholls nails the voice of Sam and his experience in a very real and authentic way. The book is certainly sad and we feel sympathy for Sam and his family, but it never gets too drippy or sentimental. Sam is very matter-of-fact about his condition and lives his life as best he can under the circumstances,. I found it almost sadder when Feliz died than at the end when Sam dies, because we experience the book, which is written in the first person, through his eyes. Ways to Live Forever is a character driven story and all the characters are all fully developed. It is interesting to see how the different people in Sam's life react and the effect of his illness on the family, all through an eleven-year-old lenses. Ways to Live Forever is a British book and was not noticeably altered for an American audience (which I approve of). Some of the British-isms and slang may put off young American readers, but Sam's overall life-style is comparable to that of American children. The book is quiet and thoughtful, but I was never bored and Sam is never too depressing and annoying. I really liked him, felt sad when he died, but also felt a sense of peace that it was okay. A book about a child dying is not for everyone, which is why I wouldn't use it for book discussion, but I have some young patrons who ask me for "sad books". This book definitely will have an audience and is a beautiful story for those who enjoy such things.