Welcome to the comments and discussion of the Young Adult Cancer Book Club! We are reading The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld!
Read our participants’ reactions and follow along with us each week as we read through the book! Caution, spoilers below!
Week 1: Chapters 1 and 2
By Xenia R:
Chapter 1: Becca
The book started with a scene that many can relate to – a school bus drop off and reconnecting with a munchkin at the end of their day. Having spent most of my life working with kids I can relate to the idea of Emma wanting to watch either her parent’s wedding video or Becca Night Live. I found the interactions between Becca’s parents and her friends in the hospital room to be very authentic especially since this was the first time they left her in 7 weeks.
The reader could visual each moment that was described on the pages of her friends in the hospital room – how uncomfortable Jordana feels, how much Lex wanted to appear to be most attentive, how Becca felt she was missing out on Lex’s date, or Holly’s need to be the mother of the group.
Chapter 2: Nolan
This chapter switches to Becca’s husband and how they met in college and how he first experienced watching Becca Night Live. Becca shares with Nolan, very nonchalantly that she had cancer, which I find myself doing many times. You drop it into a conversation, hope for not a big response, and keep on moving. It is a part of you, a major part of you but it is not, most of the time, an individual’s most defining characteristic. And Nolan responded like 95% of the population citing ever person they knew who had cancer.
It was easy to transition to the present as the book did using the touchpoint of the video and the cast, citing how the majority had stayed friends, the last time they had all met up was at Becca and Nolan’s wedding, and seeing how Jordana had become the key organizer of the weekend.
The end of the chapter did provide a cliff hanger by letting the reader know that Nolan had hurt Becca and now we have to continue reading to find out how.
By Rachel C:
I am only a few chapters into this book, but I love the style in which it’s written. Each chapter is from a different character’s point of view. The book starts in the voice of Becca who is married to Nolan and has a daughter, Emma. Becca is a young adult cancer survivor (diagnosed in 9th grade) and her 25th-year cancerversary is approaching. When she was first said to be in remission, her friends, the “Cast”, made a sketchy comedy video for her called “Becca Night Live”. Her squad is a group that includes 4 other people – Jordana, Seth, Holly, and Lex. In the first chapter, Becca flashes back to that time when she’s in the hospital and her friends present her with this video. The second chapter is her husband Nolan’s point of view. He shares how they met in college and the beginning of their relationship.
A few things stuck out to me in the first few chapters.
– One of Becca’s biggest concerns in going through treatment was the loss of her hair. She explains how, as her hair had been rapidly thinning, one of her nurses kept encouraging her to shave her head. And that finally, the nurse came in and “held her ground” that the hair must be cut/shaved off, even though Becca protested. I did not lose all of my hair in my cancer treatment. But it fell out in clumps and thinned out considerably so I had to cut it into a short pixie cut for a while. I remember how difficult it was for me to cut off 12+ inches of hair. I couldn’t do it all at once. Every few weeks I had my hairdresser cut off a few inches so I could adjust to how short it was going to be. While reading through the chapter, my head kept going back to this section. I felt sad for Becca that cutting off her hair didn’t seem to be her idea or her choice. And the fact that she said she “dreaded hair loss more than death” had me hurting for her and that fact that it hadn’t been her own decision to shave off her head in treatment.
– Another thing that stuck out to me was how she talked about her friend Jordana. Jordana wasn’t just a friend and she was more than a sister. She said Jordana was like an extension of her and her family. I’m interested to see how Jordana’s character plays out in the story. Becca notices that something is ‘off’ with Jordana and also hints at Jordana being jealous or maybe even a slightly controlling person when it comes to Becca.
– And the final thing that stuck out to me was while Becca was in the hospital after watching Becca Night Live with her friends, she then watched it with her parents. A nurse walks in as they are watching it and she makes a comment about how Becca would probably be “friends for life”. As I thought about my own cancer journey and even my own life, looking back there were so many people I thought I’d be “friends for life” with..and yet we aren’t for various reasons. The book is based on a 25-year reunion celebration of Becca’s remission. I can’t wait to finish the book to see what happens with each character. The book says the 5 of them hadn’t been all together in one room for 13 years, when Becca and Nolan got married. I’m curious to see how the dynamics have changed with her friends.
By Sarah L:
The first chapter is told from the point of view of Becca, a young woman who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in ninth grade. While she was in the hospital her school friends made her a Saturday Night Live-style video (“Becca Night Live”) to cheer her up. In this chapter, Becca is in her late 30s, with a husband (Nolan) and young daughter (Emma), and they are getting ready for a reunion weekend with the cast of the video. We quickly learn, however, that Becca has received some bad news (hinted, though not confirmed, to be related to her cancer), and this affects her feelings about the upcoming reunion.
This first chapter covers a number of experiences that I am sure are familiar to many of us dealing with cancer: losing your hair (that weird moment of often physical relief as hair is shaved off, coupled with all of the emotions of seeing yourself bald for the first time); the isolation of being in hospital; the difficulty of watching your family struggle; the challenge of becoming dependent on others; and the blurring of boundaries with parents that often results. The theme I related to most strongly, however, was the ways in which cancer changes friendships. The different ways in which people show up (or not). The discomfort of feeling at times like a charity case. Wondering if things will ever become normal again. Missing out on the little things in other people’s lives – like first dates – as people balance wanting to support you with not knowing how much to share. This all resonated really strongly with me, and I appreciated the way in which the author discussed it honestly, without drowning Becca in either sorrow or pity.
The second chapter is told from Nolan’s point of view and covers the early days of his relationship with Becca. From the first time they meet (on stage during senior week at Columbia) to their first date, and eventually back to the present day. Again, big news related to Becca’s cancer is hinted at but not revealed, and as I read this I actually had to skip ahead a few chapters to confirm what the news was because I realized it was making me really anxious. Perhaps this is a testament to the author’s skill, but the hints without knowing brought up strong feelings of scanxiety, and flashbacks to my own experiences of being called to unexpected appointments, knowing the news was probably not good, but not yet knowing what it was. I don’t want to give away future chapters here, however, so instead, I’ll focus on another key theme in this chapter that I found really interesting – the question of disclosure. When Becca and Nolan first meet, she is several years post-treatment, and he is initially unaware that she has had cancer. As they grow closer, however, she has to decide when to tell him about her illness, and because we see this moment through Nolan’s eyes we also see how and why he reacts the way he does. I really liked the author’s decision to show this moment from Nolan’s point of view rather than Becca’s. It told us a lot about Nolan’s character, and also removed all of the emotional sides that likely dominated Becca’s experience of the same moment, allowing us to see their relationship as something that existed, from the beginning, in a world of cancer, but without making cancer the dominant factor in either Becca’s life or their relationship together.
Join in next Monday for the comments and discussion on chapters 3-4!
We will talk about a few chapters each Monday until the book is done. If Monday happens to be a holiday, then the post will publish on Tuesday. Once we finish the book, we’ll use one more Monday to talk about general feelings from the book and anything else you’d like to discuss. We’ll also have a video chat book club discussion at the end! Join in, in the comments every week! Also, there will probably be spoilers so read along with us! Excited about the young adult cancer book club? Have any suggestions for future reads? Let us know!