cover image Ways to Live Forever

Ways to Live Forever

Sally Nicholls. Scholastic/Levine, $16.99 (212pp) ISBN 978-0-545-06948-9

This year's answer to 2007's Before I Die , this first novel written by a 23-year-old Brit likewise features a young narrator with incurable cancer—and, while it doesn't entirely escape the conventions of the dying-child novel, it skirts easy sentiment to confront the hard questions head-on, intelligently and realistically and with an enormous range of feeling. Sam, facing his third recurrence of leukemia at the age of 11, keeps a journal, and among his entries are facts, questions and lists: “Questions Nobody Answers No. 1 – How do you know that you've died?”; “True facts about coffins”; “Why does God make kids get ill?” Sam starts out with a buddy, another terminally ill boy who shares Sam's sense of humor and who with Sam is taught by a visiting teacher (“No dying at the table, Felix,” she tells him in the opening scene when he is mocking melodramatic portrayals of “the poor, frail child... struggling bravely”). How Sam and his family cope with Felix's death and Sam's own inevitable decline—ultimately, with humor, grace and generosity of spirit—will bring on tears; more impressively, it will also help readers address the hard questions for themselves. Ages 9–12. (Sept.)