A while back I won a copy of Ways to Live Forever in a drawing over at Vulpes Libris. If you know me, a free book is a good book, but I still let it languish on by bookshelf for quite some time. I finally got around to it and finished just a few nights ago. On nights when Anna has a bit of trouble getting to sleep, I’ll read a bit to her until she drifts off. I read this one incrementally over about two weeks or so, and I’m not sure it was a choice on my part. A book about an eleven-year-old dying of leukemia is probably not something you want to fall asleep to. Regardless, it was a great book. Oddly, it is also a kid’s book.
This may seem a bit strange to some, it did a bit to me as well, that in our day and age where we do everything we can to shelter kids from anything unpleasant, let alone anything morbid, someone would address such a book to kids. This is, after all, an era where Rapunzel didn’t let down her hair so charming prince could rescue her from a tower prison, put there by an evil witch. No, no, she merely was a girl told by her grumpy aunt that she couldn’t go out and play. So her friend climbed up inside, with the help of Rapunzel’s extraordinary hair and they had a play date together. This is pathetic, yes, but I seemed to have gotten side-tracked.
Ways to Live Forever is surprisingly frank, matter-of-factly dealing with death and all the questions and issues that our mortality brings: the afterlife, pain, fear, legacy. It is written in the first person by Sam, a boy deciding to write the story of his own death. As morbid as the whole thing seems, the story is decidedly not. Sam’s story lacks the expected self-pity as well as the expected “live life to the fullest” preachy message.
The ending, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away here that you wouldn’t get from the inside flap of the book, is both creative and heart-rending. The author manages to portray Sam’s final moments well, avoiding triteness and allowing the weight of what is happening to fall squarely on the reader.
The writing is excellent and the characters are perfectly realistic. Only in the occasional footnote does the tone ever falter from a completely believable eleven-year-old’s voice. I am so glad to have read this book, and I would definitely recommend it to both adults and for children as well. I think this book does an excellent job addressing a topic most would prefer to avoid. It does it well and in a way I think kids could understand. I’ll be keeping this one on my shelf for a long time.