Changing Fate by Michelle Merrill

Changing Fate

Michelle Merrill, Author

CreateSpace, Fiction, May 6, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Chronic Illness, Cystic Fibrosis, Transplants, Secrecy, Friendships, Hope

Opening: “I reach into my backpack and wrap my fingers around my pill-box, but I can’t seem to pull it out. Maybe I’m a little embarrassed about taking meds with every meal…or maybe it’s the girl with the blue-streaked hair who’s staring at me from across the cafeteria. She steps towards me. I grip the container and flip the lid open.”

Book Synopsis: All Kate wants is to live. Battling cystic fibrosis is hard enough, dying from it is even harder. When her mom moves them closer to the hospital in the middle of her senior year, Kate’s determined to isolate herself – saving everyone the trouble of befriending a dying girl. It’s a difficult task when cheerful optimist Giana insists on being Kate’s friend.

Kate’s resolve falters even more when curly-haired Kyler captivates her with his sweet melodies. As her emotional walls collapse, Kate realizes the people she’s been pushing away may be the ones giving her a reason to live. But it might be too late.

Why I like this book:

There are few novels published for teens with cystic fibrosis (CF) and their families and friends. Kate’s story gives readers an authentic  look into what it’s like to live with CF and have a normal life. It’s a daily battle for Kate to breathe, let alone focus on friendships and outside activities.

Michelle Merrill has written a powerful and beautifully crafted story that is filled with vivid imagery, fear, anger, humor and courage. The characters are colorful, realistic and well-developed.

Kate is a determined and gutsy teen who keeps her CF a secret from the very classmates who are eager to befriend her, especially after she uses her black-belt skills on a lunch-room thief.  There is no resisting upbeat Giana who insists on being Kate’s best friend. And there is Kyler, with a freckle on his upper lip, soft curly hair and a song in his heart. They become a close threesome and Kate realizes their friendships give her a reason to live. Even Vivian, the school bully, manages to find a way into your heart.

The first half of the story gives readers a glimpse into Kate’s daily routine that includes taking enzymes before meals to help her digest  food, nebulizer medications that help her breathe more easily, and a compression vest to loosen mucous in her lungs. There are trips to the ER and hospital stays when she develops a lung infection. Her journey is realistic.

The second half of the story is very fast-paced with unraveling secrets and many unexpected surprises that keep you fiercely turning pages. It is an emotional story, so grab a tissue box. I won’t give away any spoilers because this book is one to savor.

Merrill did her homework. The idea for the story is based on a friend of the author’s two daughters. It is well-researched and I am thrilled to share her novel with readers. It is important for teens to see themselves in others. Each case of CF is different. Visit Michelle Merrill at her website.

Resources: I recently learned that cystic fibrosis is called a “rare” disease because there aren’t enough individuals with CF to meet the magic number for major medical research funding. Sad. To learn more about cystic fibrosis visit their website. This book with pair nicely with The Baking Life of Amelie Day, by Vanessa Curtis.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

The Baking Life of Amelie Day

Baking Life of Amelie 9781496522160The Baking Life of Amelie Day

Vanessa Curtis, Author

Capstone Young Readers, Sept. 1, 2015

Pages: 167

Suitable for Ages: 9-13

Themes: Cystic Fibrosis, Baking Competitions, Family relationships, Friendship, Trust, Responsibility, Loss

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Amelie Day is made of sugar and spice and lives to bake sweet confections for her family and friends.  Her life would be empty without baking.  Flour power dominates her mind.  She is excited when she is invited to compete in the Best Teen Baker of the Year contest, even though she knows that participating is a risk to her worsening cystic fibrosis. There are days when she can barely breathe and many trips to the hospital. When her doctors and parents tell her she is too ill to participate, she defies them and takes a train on her own from Pennsylvania to New York City.  She hopes to wow the judges with her German gingerbread with vanilla custard, her macaroons, and chocolate lava cakes. The trip presents many unexpected challenges and hurts family and friends.

Why I like this book:

I am thrilled to share Vanessa Curtis’ compelling story about a strong protagonist with cystic fibrosis (CF). This work of realistic fiction fits the bill. There is a nice balance between a teen wanting to pursue her dreams and a teen living with a serious illness. Teens with CF will find a hero in Amelie.

The narrative is written in first person and gives the reader deep insight into Amelie and how she finds a way to cope with CF. Her love of baking is the perfect antidote because she isn’t able to participate in many physical activities like her classmates. Amelie is a feisty, creative and determined character. She finds a way to balance her daily treatments, exercises and medications, with school, a job, a boyfriend and her baking dreams. She works part-time at a grocery store to earn her pay in baking supplies. Her parents are supportive but protective. Her childhood friend and boyfriend, Harry, is very accepting of Amelie’s CF.

The plot is interesting, adventurous and entertaining. Themes cover issues of responsibility, trust and independence. It is easy to lose yourself in Amelie’s baking world. I found myself drooling over her recipes. There is plenty of tension to keep readers turning pages. Teens who love to bake, will enjoy the inclusion of recipes of Amelie’s baked goods at the end of many chapters. Here’s to Amelie’s flour power!

Vanessa Curtis is the award-winning author of several young adult novels including Zelah Green (Egmont 2009), which won the Manchester Children’s Book Prize, and The Haunting of Tabitha Gray (Egmont, 2012), a contemporary ghost story with a shocking twist.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

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