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 Leslie P.:
These chapters cover a variety of difficult situations. The author has created such real characters and vividly paints a picture of what it is like to first, be a teenager; second, be a teenager with a visible disability, and third, the turmoil of being a childhood cancer survivor who keeps his cancer story private.
Jase is out to dinner with his parents when his Mom starts talking about how wonderful it is that Mari transferred to AWP and how cool it is that he can keep up with his Camp Chemo friends during the school year. Jase has very mixed feelings. Mari being at his school has invaded the “cancer-free” bubble he surrounded himself with. He is more worried about people at school finding out he is a cancer survivor, that he avoids Mari and acts like an ass. Jase is feeling very exposed, and uncomfortable and is in no mood to have conversations about his future swimming, college, law school career that his father expects him to blindly follow. He tries to avoid making any promises without telling his parents that he wants nothing to do with the legacy they want for him. His Mom starts talking about her Annual NYE Gala fundraiser and wants Mari to speak at it since the benefactor this year will be Camp Chemo. Jase is faced with his two worlds colliding. He has flashbacks to middle school where he was tormented by bullies, and he has not told anyone at AWP about his cancer for that specific reason. Kids can be jerks.
Mari is at home playing a friendly game of Phase 10 (reminds me of the nights my family played for hours) with her siblings and talking to her brother about a party that she doesn’t really want to go to. She decided to join her brother, Leo, in hopes that she will see some of her friends from her old school that she hasn’t seen since transferring to AWP. Mari encourages her friend Ellie to go after her brother Leo, who Ellie has a huge crush on. Then she runs into Lucas from AWP, and he asks her out! She is shocked since she has never been asked out, but she turns him down. Then the awful Lindsay and Madalyn show up, surprised that Mari even came to the party, and with her brother. Lindsay is a snob per usual making snide comments about the kids from South not being cool enough to be at this party. Naive Madalyn is confused and dumbly asks Mari if she can drive with one leg. Mari gets the hell away from these girls as fast as possible in search of her friends from South.
Jase arrives at the party. Lindsay rushes to his side with Madalyn right behind her. Madalyn points out to Jase that Mari is with Lucas who asked her out obviously out of pity. Blah. Madalyn is in her own little special world. She tells Jase that Mari’s brother is at the party also. Jase asks if she knows Leo, and her response is the worst! “No, but a figured I would recognize him.” Confused, Lindsay wonders how Madalyn will possibly recognize Leo. Poor, poor Madalyn says, “I mean, he’ll have one leg.” OMG! After shocked silence, Jase asks Madalyn why she would make that assumption. She stands firm in her assumption that cancer is genetic, so it seemed obvious to her. Right then Leo comes walking in on his two legs and greets Jase, who he knows from swim competitions. Leo introduces Ellie to everyone, and Ellie mentions to Jase that Mari talks about him. Lindsay gets jealous, and Jase feels like his world is shrinking quickly. Lindsay is upset and concerned when Jase tries to go outside and will not dance with her. He is so frustrated by her clinginess, jealousy and ends up breaking up with her in front of the whole party. Lindsay is furious! Jase escapes outside, where of course he sees Mari. By now Jase knows he has been a total jerk to Mari since she started at AWP and wants to be better so he starts up a conversation with her. Mari is confused by the two different Jases she has experienced lately. Jerky Jase, and fun camp chemo friend, crush Jase. Mari doesn’t sugarcoat things when she tells Jase how frustrated she is with him. I love her honesty! Mari wishes she could hide her cancer story from everyone like he can, but has no idea what that would even feel like. Mari explains to Jase that most of the time it is just easier to tell total strangers right away and get it over with. Jase offers to meet up with Mari and help her with her chemistry homework. The nicest gesture he has shown towards her lately.
Mari is at work when Jase’s mother calls to asks Mari to speak at the NYE Gala. Mari is thrilled to offer any support she can for Camp Chemo and gladly accepts. Mari has some reservations about speaking only because she is trying to respect Jase’s wish about keeping his cancer story private. Jase stops by the bookstore to see Mari and is very flirtatious. Mari is cautious around Jase, she doesn’t want to be hurt by him. Mari doesn’t let his bad behavior off lightly, but she is warming up to him again. After work, they go to the cafe where their friend Davis works to study chemistry. Davis is also a cancer survivor and a recovering addict. Mari shares with Jase her guilt about speaking out to Davis’ parents about addiction and how she wishes she would have spoken up sooner. Jase ends up apologizing to Mari for being such a jerk lately, finally! Mari remains cautious.
The debate class. Mari bravely shares her cancer story and the financial impact her treatments caused for her two working, health-insured parents. Lindsay, of course, is cruel with side comments and is asked to stay after class after the teacher warned her that her comments were out of line. These issues about the US health system were eloquently introduced by the author with the classroom debate. Mari holds it together until the end of class. She is tired of how the world treats her as a disabled person. She is tired of defending herself, she is exhausted by never being able to forget that she lost her leg.
Jase finds Mari crying after class and comforts her the best he can. He is angry that Lindsay’s cruelty has upset Mari. Mari just wishes she could be like Jase and not have to tell her life story to everyone she meets. She asks Jase what he will do when everyone at school eventually finds out his cancer story. Jase continues to believe he can keep cancer private.
By Michelle M.:
Jase and his family have dinner at the country club. His mother also brings up seeing Mari at AWP and how nice it must be. His mother also mentions having Mari be a speaker for the gala honoring Camp Chemo. You can feel how uncomfortable this all makes Jase. Then, his father arrives. His father asks how school is, is Jase ready for a swim invitational, swimming for UGA in the fall. His father wants Jase to follow in his footsteps. Go to UGA, become a lawyer. Jase’s mother saves him from this conversation by talking with his father about Mari being a speaker at the gala, how they should have Mari come to the club for dinner. You can see his father is capable of empathy when he asked which one Mari was. Jase explains she was the amputee and his father “softened”. Then there is talk of Jase being a speaker and how “inspirational” he was when he spoke in middle school. However, Jase remembers being taunted by others in middle school as “diseased” etc., how teachers would treat him differently after. I could feel how uncomfortable Jase was in this entire chapter. I think the reader begins to see why Jase has no desire for others to know what he went through. He is under a lot of pressure and stress.
Starts with a family game night at Mari’s house. Mari’s brother Leo starts a discussion about a party. Giselle, tells Mari she should go. Mari wants to stay home and finish a book she is reading. She is convinced to go to the party. She is hoping some of her old South Side friends will be there. She also sees Lucas, who kind of asks her out, Mari tells him she is still new and trying to figure everything out. Lucas seems ok with her response. Then enters, Lindsay and Madalyn. Obviously, Mari doesn’t want to be around them. Mari mentions to them she has some friends from South there. Lindsay mentions how she doesn’t know how they even got there. Mari replies with they drove. The chapter ends with Mari sarcastically stating how it was nice to see them but she is going to go find her friends. I feel this chapter is really just setting up for the next chapter.
Jase enters the party now. He makes his way to the basement and runs into Lindsay and Madalyn. Jase asks who all is around. Madalyn tells him some kids from South Side, she also mentions that Mari is there with Lucas. Lindsay takes this time to tell him how Lucas asked Mari out. Lindsay doesn’t mention how Mari basically told Lucas no. Madalyn mentions how Mari said her brother was there but she hadn’t seen him yet. Lucas asks her if she knows Leo, Madalyn replies no, but she would recognize him if she saw him. When others ask her how would she recognize him she says because he would have one leg. The people around her are silent and stunned that she would actually believe that. In comes Leo with Ellie. Leo introduces Ellie to Jase. Ellie mentions how Mari has talked about him. Jase doesn’t like how she looks at him as if she knows everything about him. Jase and Leo start talking about an upcoming swim meet. Jase unintentionally finds Mari as he is scanning the room. He suddenly doesn’t feel right and says he will be back. Lindsay follows him asking if he is alright. He says he is fine. Lindsay then asks if he wants to dance with her. He responds no he doesn’t and their “thing” is done. Lindsay is upset and asks if he is breaking up with her in front of everyone. Jase responds that they were not exclusive, and he can’t break up with her when they were not together to begin with. Jase doesn’t know that Mari was also outside and overheard the entire thing. Lindsay leaves; Jase and Mari begin to talk and she mentions she has to go now because she has to work the next day. Mari calls him Jase, but corrects herself and calls him Jason. (Mari only calls him Jase when she feels close to him). Jase breaks the ice by commenting how Madalyn thought Leo would also have only one leg. It seems to work and they laugh over this. Mari takes this time to let Jase know what a jerk he has been to her. He says he knows and he just doesn’t want anyone finding out that he had cancer before, he couldn’t handle it. Mari replies that she gets it. Leo flashes the car lights to let Mari know he is leaving. Mari says see ya, Jase asks if he can see her tomorrow after work, he can help her with chemistry, he saw her confused in class. Mari asks if he is watching her, he says always. I think this chapter makes it clear that Jase does have feelings for Mari and does know that he has been an ass to her. Their flirtatious conversation at the end makes it feel like they will get back together soon.
Mari is at work and receives a phone call from Olivia, Jase’s mother, and she is asking Mari if she would be a speaker at the gala honoring camp chemo. Mari has a customer so she has to go. The customer turns out to be Jase. Mari tells him about the call. He seems a little bothered but tells Mari he needs a book on how to get a girl’s attention. Mari tells him in the self-help section. Jase asks if she would think less of him if he doesn’t like reading. She tells him she has judged him for more lately. He agrees and says how he is surprised she is even speaking to him. Mari says how she probably shouldn’t be because he will just hurt her again. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge this comment and instead tells Mari he does intend to help her with chemistry and when is she off work. Mari says in an hour and he waits for her to finish work. They leave the bookstore and Jase drives Mari to the Daily Grind where Davis works. Davis is leaving to go to a meeting. Jase says how he felt guilty when he found out Davis was in rehab. Mari replies that she is the one that told his parents and she has felt guilty about Davis now having a record. Jase asks why Mari didn’t tell him about this at camp. Mari then pulls away from Jase again, asking why he came to her store. Jase tells her because he needed to see her because of what a tool he has been. She asks why his friends care about her so much. Jase tells her because they are just stupid, and to not let them get to her. Mari tells him she doesn’t let them get to her it is when he does it to her. She then goes to leave and loses her balance. Jase asks her to stop for a minute. Mari says stop catching me, just to drop me later. I think it is clear to see that Mari isn’t ready to fully trust Jase again, which is completely understandable.
Mari is in debate class. She is giving her speech on her story and how medical insurance, billing has caused issues for not just her, but other families with children facing a cancer diagnosis. Mari explains how some families even end up filing for bankruptcy. This is the 1st out of line comment Lyndsay gives saying how that families filing for bankruptcy isn’t bad for her because her dad is a bankruptcy lawyer and it keeps her in Prada shoes. The debate continues. Mari is rebutting about research dollars not going towards childhood cancers. Lindsay again interrupts to say how kids don’t actually get cancer, it only happens in movies and is super rare in real life. Mari continues the debate until time is called. It is now time for questions for the debaters. Lindsay then brings up a documentary about the sugar/cancer story and how this woman was completely cured etc., that if chemo is so expensive why not just cut out sugar. Mari explains how she has heard this story before and it is also the equivalent of victim shaming. Lindsay then responds with “oh did I hit a nerve”, and how Mari’s parents should have planned better to be able to afford a child having cancer. Mari needs to get away from Lindsay and everyone else who has never been in her shoes and doesn’t understand. She runs out of the classroom as soon as the bell rang. I have felt the same way before in certain situations, hearing the sugar/cancer connection story or other “cures” that people know about.
Jase sees Mari sitting on a bench in the hallway crying. Jase tries to comfort Mari she always seems so strong that words can not hurt her. Mari cries to him saying how she wishes she could be like him with no one having to know about his cancer. Mari then tells him about her appointment with a new prosthetics company. Mari then asks Jase what he will do when people find out about his story, because they will eventually find out. They then talk about being in charge of their own story. Jase then tells her how he isn’t even sure his leukemia is part of his story. The chapter ends with Mari saying how she has no idea what that is like, but she bets it is nice. I can see how Mari thinks it must be nice for Jase to not “have to” feel like explaining his situation to everyone.
By Shamika H.:
I loved reading the book Finding Balance. Chapters 18-23 was the best part of the book. I learned a lot about the characters. It was an amazing book and I would love to read another book by this author. This book helped me find balance in my own life while dealing with cancer.
Join in next Monday for the comments and discussion on chapters 24-29!
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!