We all have read it before: Two characters, either one or both suffering from a terminal illness, fall in love and actually serve a dual purpose: learn to live a short life to the fullest and preserve that essence of life after death.
Romance novels with terminal sickness automatically creates an aura of dismay and morbidity overwhelmed by a life-threatening prognosis. Love, when it comes, eases pains of sickness and helps seeing the world and life altogether in a brighter light. While reading such stories, we relate to the characters, live their life with them and essentially become a part of their story.
Overall Storyline Characters Writing
This tragic young romance brings together a tale of sickness, fear, love, and loss. Styx Hendricks, suffering from alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (cancer, in short), has had seen it all before—the suffering, medical intervention, and the horrific after effects. He survived it then but is in remission again with a four-year survival prognosis. He meets Alaska Stones during a chemo session. She is the girl he has pined for over seven years and like him, she also has cancer, brain tumor to be exact. She is angry at life, her friends, her parents and everything and understandably so.
That’s what I’ve been reduced to.
That’s what I have become.
A cancer on my family, on their emotions, on their time, and on their bank account.
They both form a deep connection with each other while struggling though their own suffering. Over the course of the book, Alaska opens her heart to Styx. He is a sanctuary for her in that abyss of sickness, chemo and treatment that’s making it even worse. They both inspire and motivate each other in the mist of all the chaos.
The physical and mental pain, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, nausea, vomiting and whole lot of despair and suffering was in the charts if they went through the treatment. They opted to fight and find the little island of peace within themselves.
Getting cancer was their fate, staying with cancer was their helplessness, and dying from cancer was their choice. While they couldn’t beat cancer, they also didn’t let cancer beat them. It wasn’t an easy one but it was theirs as it was ultimately their choice if they wanted to live with the remnants of life after all the picking and prodding or die with dignity.
“Our diagnoses brought us together, but it may be the very thing that tears us apart. I don’t know who I’m more afraid for—Styx or me. I don’t know which is worse—dying too young, or being the one left behind.”
I wouldn’t have judged them if I wasn’t reviewing this book. Since I am dissecting it, I’ll go ahead and do just that.
My issue is with the utterly blasé and careless characters.
Humor, when done right, can alter the face of dismal reality and bring in some bright rays of hope. The lead characters in this story tried too hard to make the tragedy seem less tragic. Their jokes weren’t funny in the beginning and even less so by the end. They were immature at the least and annoying at best. These characters seemed frivolous and could not represent the pains and hardships of an actual patient with their constant risks and outrageous adventures in an unbelievable attempt to showcase life. Alaska’s Instagram logs further watered down the whole central theme of the book. The attempt to make the story light-hearted while keeping with the tragic theme failed for me here.
Another thing is the connection with the characters or lack thereof. A terminal romance has to have that deep enormous effect on you based on its theme alone. That of course is done through its characters. Here, neither could I feel that bond with the characters nor the characters had that kind of connection with each other. The author did invest time and space for character development but both Styx and Stones got supremely annoying so many times in the story that everything else took a backseat. There were times where we did get some real insights from two people fighting death. But those weren’t too many.
“This disease is terrifying for parents too. Sometimes they don’t get that we’re forced to become adults, and we have to make some very adult decisions about our bodies, and our futures. Sometimes we’re more ready for those decisions than they are.”
Romanticizing an illness can be heart-touching, making you weep through the night and wetting every other page of the book. But is it realistic? Does it not affect readers suffering from the actual disease? Does the decisions that these teenagers made (that seem to be reckless, at least to me) doesn’t affect the parents, siblings and loved ones they leave behind?
I struggled with the same questions when I read Me Before You, but the author somehow justified the life-ending decision that the lead character made there. Maybe it was the seriousness with which the topic was contemplated upon there. Maybe it was the fact that we lived with the despair with which he lived his daily life. Maybe it was his sheer inability to do even the menial routine chores without assistance. It all boils down to maybes that felt justified there but not here.
I would rate this book a 3-star simply for its ability to make me think so much about it even days after I read it.