Can You Promise Me Spring?
Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
The title’s question is certainly valid when you are just 12 and discover in October that you have cancer. Though Jamie Carmichael is the one with the disease, the story is told from the perspective of his 16-year-old sister, Lori, as she relates the effects of Jamie’s potentially fatal disease, not only on him, but also on her life and that of her junior high school teacher mother and psychology professor father.
To protect Lori from knowing about the severity of her brother’s illness, her parents initially describe Jamie’s cancer by its technical name, Hodgkin’s disease. However, Lori’s boyfriend, Derek Mahler, who is also the son of Jamie’s doctor, accidentally blurts out the truth. As the weeks pass, Lori discovers that self-centred Derek seems to be incapable of offering her any emotional support. Instead, he wants their relationship, particularly its social aspects, to continue as if Jamie were not seriously ill. Finally, Lori breaks up with shallow Derek and comes to find the understanding she seeks in schoolmate Cam Wright, whose grandfather is dying from lung cancer in the same Regina hospital Jamie visits for his chemotherapy treatments. Four months after its discovery, Jamie’s cancer, while not cured, is in remission, and the various family members are left with new understandings of each other and themselves.
As Pirot’s own husband died after a 14 year battle with cancer, she can write with knowledge and emotion about the physical and psychological effects the disease can have on its victim. Lori documents what happens to Jamie; the unrecognized symptoms before the cancer is diagnosed, the bouts of nausea and gut wrenching vomiting which follow chemotherapy treatments, his loss of hair and appetite, the periods of hospitalization when Jamie’s immune system fails as a consequence of the cancer treatments, a growing anger which ultimately leads to Jamie’s trashing his bedroom, and his temporary decision to give up fighting against the disease.
Though the romance aspects may attract some adolescent readers to the book, the portrayal of how family members cope with the harsh intrusion of a killer disease into their lives is the book’s real strength.