Welcome to the comments and discussion of the Young Adult Cancer Book Club! We are reading Finding Balance by Kati Gardner! Read our participants’ reactions and follow along with us each week as we read through the book! Caution, spoilers below!
By Marie K.:
Chapters 36, 38, and 41 – Mari
We start after Mari was in a car crash, has broken her arm, and is temporarily recuperating at home. Aside: Is it just me or does it seem like car accidents feature prominently in novels to add drama? Or maybe it’s just the books I read (I’m thinking also of The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld and The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney)?
We are in an “on again” part of Mari and Jase’s relationship to start – Jase is being somewhat attentive by bringing school work, helping Mari with Chemistry, and being somewhat (it’s all very PG, which I appreciate) intimate with Mari. Mari is a typical teenage girl in some ways, and very much not in others – her blooming relationship is making her all “warm and fuzzy” at this point which, I think, would be just like a typical teenage girl. (I’m sorry, I really dislike romance and teen romance seems so much worse. My husband asked at one point if Mari’s feelings were typical of a teenage girl and I should admit here, given my comment above, that I honestly had no idea – I skipped that part of development, I think. It was a little hard for me to relate.)
Slight detour: On the topic of relationships: Mari and Jase’s seem like an abusive relationship. Jase is a jerk and, at times, ignores her, avoids her, won’t communicate with her, won’t stand up for her, and even ends up blaming her for his inability to deal with his cancer diagnosis as a child. Jase usually regrets it after a while and tries to make amends but ends up hurting Mari. Again and again. And then, Mari forgives him and lets him get past her defenses. Again and again. This cycle is not healthy (someone had to say it). I’m sure some people reading this book want this relationship to work out in the end but I wanted to see Mari find someone better, someone who doesn’t have all these hang-ups, who can be proud of being with her, and who doesn’t abuse her forgiving nature.
Anyways, back to the story and how Mari is not a typical teen: Mari having to deal with being an amputee has caused her to be atypical in some aspects of her life, such as being self-sufficient, and being an advocate for cancer patients/survivors and disabled people. Mari gets a wheelchair after the car accident so she won’t have to hop everywhere (not being able to put weight on her arms and therefore not able to use her crutches) and she acknowledges the irony of needing one after she transferred to AWP because she didn’t want to get one just to please the administration at her old school. We see her advocacy side as she, with her brother’s help, tries to educate an ignorant man on transit, when she could have just as easily told him off. That incident did not help with Mari’s anxiety levels though as she gets closer to going back to AWP after the car accident.
However, being back at school doesn’t end up being a showstopper because we skip ahead in the next chapter to game night at Mari’s. Mari gets to bond a little with her brothers’ girlfriends here and one of them, Caroline, agrees to help Mari with her upcoming lab (the continuing story arc/conflict of whether Mari will pass Chemistry or not). There is some gentle teasing from her brothers and we get a nice picture of a relatively well-adjusted happy family. No spoilers, promise, but I will say that at least none of that family dynamic changes. I do wish Mari’s family were a little more snoopy and a little more opposed to Mari’s relationship with Jase. Maybe they don’t want to be seen as overbearing. Overall, everyone seems to look out for one another.
Chapters 37, 39, and 40 – Jase
Jase has thrown a bit of a surprise party for Mari – friends and camp counselors are in attendance – to cheer her up after two weeks of being stuck at home. Jase doesn’t do a lot of talking at first, just listening. A debate springs up and Mari is able to defend her position on prostheses and “the happy cripple” very well.
Another aside: Why is that a thing? Everyone has good days and bad days and yes, we do often put on a “brave” face for the world, but why does the world expect that? Why can’t we have our bad days and be allowed to be angry or sad or whiney or whatever?
Anyways, Jase’s enjoyment of the party gets derailed when one of his/Mari’s friends from camp mentions the upcoming gala that Jase’s mom is planning, that will benefit Camp Chemo. In case you missed it, Jase has a huge hang-up about the gala and the possibility of being “outed” by his current school friends as a cancer survivor. I get it on one level – I don’t tell everyone my medical history either if I can help it. But I also don’t go to great lengths and deceitfulness to hide it either. Jase doesn’t seem to understand (yet) that there can be a happy medium.
Skip ahead a little and we’re at school again, Jase having picked up Mari at a transit hub. He’s running to swimming warm-ups and worrying about being there before his coach arrives. Jase has been having health issues lately with a racing heart, trouble breathing, tunnel vision/spots potentially leading to a blackout. Things finally come to a head at swim practice – he can’t breathe while doing laps and has to stop. His coach notices that something is wrong and he does what any coach would, which angers/causes anxiety Jase – he calls Jase’s mom.
You know where this is going: appointments and scans. These should determine what is going on with Jase’s health and maybe even result in something being done about it other than ignore the symptoms and try to hide them from everyone else like Jase did. We can certainly all relate to one or two parts of that. At least for Jase, his doctors know what to ask and what to maybe look for (the same can’t be said for all of us, unfortunately). Jase is having none of it and is rude and barely complies with the doctor’s requests/instructions. I’m sorry but Jase has a serious attitude problem. I’m pretty sure we all hate the doctor at times and have days when we jump down their throat but Jase takes it too far. His mom, coach, doctor, and others are concerned, and with good reason, but Jase is in denial and is a jerk to mostly everyone, with the exception of Davis who is volunteering at the hospital and stops by to chat with Jase. We don’t get answers yet, but we now know that something more than just an infection is wrong…
By Hilary W.:
Chapters 36-41 deal with that feeling many cancer patients know all too well – the return of concerning symptoms and uncertainty. It’s a feeling people who haven’t lived through serious illness can’t understand – the feeling of one’s body betraying them – so it’s interesting to see it normalized in this book. If anything, Finding Balance gives a peek into the young cancer patient’s experience and it’s valuable for both young adult cancer patients and non-cancer patients to witness.
By Alyssa S.:
I want to focus on two specific events that happen within these chapters that stood out to me.
The first is at the impromptu camp party at the Daily Grind. Noah gives Mari a hard time about not wearing a prosthesis. He tells Mari that if she wore one everything would just be so much easier. She tells him that prosthetics aren’t for everyone.
This really relates to the fact that nobody’s cancer journey is the same. Even if two people have the same or a similar type of cancer, or in this case that both have amputations a solution that works for one person might not work for another. Similarly coping mechanisms that work for one person may not work at all for another. The way cancer thrivers and survivors grieve differs from person to person, and how each person expresses their feelings is totally unique for each individual.
The second is when Jase has his “incident” during swim practice right before Thanksgiving break. His mom worries about the possible relation this may have to his childhood leukemia and other treatment.
In Jase’s case, it’s his mom that worries but really for young adults and adolescents with cancer histories, These kind of thoughts and stressors are all too typical for both us and our loved ones. As cancer warriors, this constant sense of worry is one of the reasons our cancer journeys are never really over.
By Stacy E.:
Mari is coming to terms with having to use a wheelchair to get around. Jase and her have become closer and she can technically call him her boyfriend. At least she thinks so. After a get-together, Jase put together at the Daily Grind, Mari is ready to get back to school. Even if it is in a wheelchair. Mari rides the train halfway to school, escorted by her brother, and then Jase drives her the rest of the way. Mari is getting used to being back to “normal”, while her boyfriend Jase has a sudden setback. While at swim drills one day Jase noticed some very scary things going on with his body. Heart racing, breathing difficulties and feeling like he might pass out. After a scary episode in the pool that warrants concern from the coach, a phone call was made home. Jason’s mom Olivia was worried so she took him to the Cancer Center to be checked. Jase was not very happy, not wanting to admit that something could be wrong. Meanwhile, Mari is off spending time with her family and unaware of what is going on with Jase.
Join in next Monday for the comments and discussion on chapters 42-47!
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!