I had honestly forgotten that I read this until I saw the preview for the movie version ahead of a showing of Beauty and the Beast a few weeks ago. And my gut reaction to the trailer was more of a “huh, that seems familiar” and less of a “hey, I read that!”, so maybe that tells you everything you need to know about this YA novel.
Note: spoilers ahead.
Madeline Whittier is a real life bubble girl. She cannot leave the house, and only has her physician mother and a full time nurse as her companions. She longs to go outside, make friends, go to a real school, and do all the other things that “normal” teenagers do. But Maddy has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency and could, quite literally, die if she ventures out. And for the most part, Maddy has made her peace with that. She has her books and her online friends, and most days that’s enough. Until Olly moves in next door. Tall and slender Olly, with the black hair and the black watch cap, who catches her eye through the double paned window and figures out how to communicate with her. Olly, who Maddy realizes immediately could be the quite literal death of her.
But like most teenagers who know that what they are about to do is incredibly stupid and yet do it anyway – consequences be damned – Maddy and Olly manage to con her nurse in to letting him come over. I’ll admit that my memory here is fuzzy; I can recollect Maddy’s mom discovering that her nurse was complicit in Olly’s visits and the nurse being fired, and Olly’s dad moved away, but somehow or other, we get to a climax that sees Maddy and Olly buying plane tickets to Hawaii and running away together.
Of course, Maddy gets sick, Olly doesn’t know what to do, and there the narrative cuts out for awhile (because Yoon chose to write in first person present which drives me totally batty). When Maddy awakens, she’s back with her mother, and again, my memory is fuzzy, so I can’t quite remember what happens to Olly. What I do remember, and what really angered me, was that Maddy discovers that her mother invented the entire illness. Maddy’s father and sibling(s) were killed in a car accident when Maddy was quite young, and her mom, understandably, was terrified that she’d lose Maddy, too, and slowly this invented illness took over their lives. It’s essentially Munchausen by proxy on like, crack. Maddy is hurt and angry at this discovery, but I don’t quite remember the extent of her anger, or really any long term consequences for her relationship with her mom. It was more a feeling of “oh well, Mom lied and it’s gonna suck for awhile but at least now I know I can go outside”. And again – it’s been a few months since I read this so I could be wrong, but it feels like I’d remember if there was more drama surrounding the big secret coming out.
I don’t know. I went back and looked and Cannonballers seem to like it – pretty much four stars across the board – but the more I think about it, the ending kind of soured me on the whole thing, which is a shame, because except for the aforementioned tense and point of view issue, I think Yoon did a great job of capturing what it’s like to be a teenager, with all of the accompanying ennui that goes with it. And I really liked her choices for Olly, particularly with regard to his father and the abuse we see scattered throughout. But I just can’t get past the ending. It will be interesting to see how that’s handed in the movie version.
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