Sick Kids in Love boasts the tagline, “They don’t die in this one.” This snort-inducing line was a big selling point for me, along with how much I enjoyed Moscowitz’s Teeth. It sounded like a refreshing change of pace from weepy dramas about terminally ill teens from Five Feet Apart to vintage Lurlene McDaniel to The Fault in Our Stars (Although that book is amazing and I love it, and I will hear nothing bad about it or John Green).
Isabel, AKA Ibby, is sixteen years old and has rheumatoid arthritis. It’s not fatal, but it is a lifelong illness. She writes an advice column for her school newspaper where she asks her friends, family, and even strangers questions and compiles all the answers. Her pseudonym for the column? Sick Girl. One person she always gets an answer from is Claire, her imaginary best friend who died of cancer. It’s a little strange, but it makes sense later. Otherwise, Ibby is normal, and has normal friends and a normal dad who works too much at his hospital.
One day at her treatment for RA, Ibby meets a boy. Sasha is receiving treatment for his Gaucher disease. It’s a not very fun genetic disorder that means fatigue, easily broken bones, and a possible future ruptured spleen, but is mostly not fatal. They have a very charming encounter, but don’t exchange contact information. Ibby counts out how long until their paths cross again when they come in for future treatments, but is surprised to meet Sasha while volunteering at the hospital. She brings him water, and they talk and make plans. Of course, Ibby has to warn him that she doesn’t date.
Soon, though, they are “not dating” a lot. The two are in the same boat in that they are sick. Ibby’s normal friends don’t understand how difficult her RA can be. They invite her to go skiing, even though she can’t do a lot of physical activity without suffering for it later. She counts out how far she has to walk to get from the subway to her apartment, how many stairs to climb, etc. She wants to just take a taxi sometimes, so she can just be dropped off at her building, but she never does. Her legs sometimes give out under her, and Sasha urges her to get a cane to help, but she can’t do that. She can’t let other people see her with a cane, can’t let her dad see her with a cane, because she doesn’t want a big billboard letting people know she is sick.
The saddest part of Ibby’s story is how long it took her to get diagnosed. Doctors said it was growing pains, even accused her of lying. That uncertainty was where Claire came from, a proxy who had a defined illness and was always the same age as Ibby when she died. Sasha was diagnosed much earlier than Ibby, though his doctors believed he had leukemia. As if it wasn’t bad enough that Ibby has to pretend to feel okay for her dad and her friends, she also doesn’t feel as though she can complain about being sick because Sasha is always sicker.
Sick Kids in Love was a very good book that brought up a lot of important issues. The romance could be sweet, but those kids were also very cringe-inducing at times. I very much liked how Ibby ended up growing through the book. She learned to stand up for herself with her friends and with her dad. True to the tagline, neither one of them dies. What more can you ask for?
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