Hard-charging and irrepressible eighteen-year-old Amelia Linehan could see a roller derby opponent a mile away—and that’s while crouched down, bent over skates, and zooming around a track at the speed of light. They don’t call her Rolldemort for nothing! What she couldn’t see coming, however, was the unexpected flare-up of a rare liver disorder she was born with. But now it’s the only thing she—and everyone around her—can think about.
With no guarantee of a viable organ transplant, everything Amelia’s been sure of—like her college plans, the mural she’d been commissioned to paint, or the possibility of one day falling in love—has become a huge question mark, threatening to drag her down into a sea of what-ifs she’s desperate to avoid.
Then a friend from the past shows up. With Will, it’s easy to forget about what’s lurking underneath the lightness of their time together. It’s easy to feel alive when all signs point elsewhere. On the other hand, with the odds decidedly not in her favor, Amelia knows this feeling couldn’t last forever. But what can?
Thank you so much to Edelweiss for this eARC that completely took my breath away. I originally requested it because of the badass that Lia (short for Amelia) is. The synopsis for the book tells us she is a roller derby queen, an artist, and a nerd (see her derby name: Rolldemort!) and as such I was completely taken by her character already, and knew she was someone I would connect with. It takes no time to warm up to her, and just as quickly the world as she knows it is quickly pulled out from under her feet when a liver disease she was born with rears its ugly head.
I learned so much from this novel, and not just about biliary atresia (or BA for short). We are taken through the process of organ donation, given so many ‘don’t you ever wonder’ questions to ponder, and regaled with tales about our past presidents. Our cast of characters each have something that they’re passionate about, and that passion struggles to stay in its lane as they are all dealt a hand in this grief. Lia refuses to be seen as The Dying Girl. She doesn’t want to be anything less than she’s ever been; strong, brave, and bold, and so the second that pity enters anyone’s eyes, she completely shuts down.
It’s a hard battle to watch, both from Lia and her loved one’s points of view. For her, she sees this only as something that is her fault. She’s causing her brother to come home from college, her parents to lose hope, and her best friend to turn her into a charity case. For everyone else, they are drowning in the fact that there’s nothing they can do. They want to rally around her, to put on a brave face, but just the thought of her life going on unfinished is unbearable. So we’re left in a very uncomfortable place as Lia attempts to defy her diagnosis and distract those surrounding her from seeing her any differently.
I don’t want to spoil the book, but there were so many things that I loved about it that I want to talk a little cryptically about. If any of you are scared of reading this because you’ve already ‘been there, done that’ with other books about teenagers grappling with disease, think again. It is so much different than any other book I’ve read dealing with similar subject matter. There is a bit of a ‘flirty’ aspect with a boy, but this boy does not come in on a white horse and carry her away from her mortality. He is a strong pillar that holds her up when she is coming unglued, and only when she has made it clear that she needs that. It was so refreshing to not have that be the focus of the narrative, as Lia has so many other things to focus on.
One such thing being her best friend, Sibby. She is Lia’s advocate, whether she wants it or not. She, along with Lia’s parents and brother Alex, are warriors. They are the net saving Lia from the cold abyss of fear, and their love rips her out of many a panic attack within these pages. The relationships built between friends and family are so important in this book, and reminds us that romantic love isn’t the only important love. When you’re sick, all you want is for your mom to hold you and bring you soup. You want your best friend to watch reruns of Friends and The West Wing with you. You want normalcy, and I can’t imagine that’s any different under threat of death.
The ending took me by surprise. I cried from the first sentence of the second to last chapter, and from then on it was just a kind of cathartic release. There’s so much tension you pick up on from all of these characters who are walking the line between hope and despair; looking down every once and awhile to see dread in the form of alligators just waiting to tear them to pieces. Sometimes they slip, and the alligators nip off a bit of their foot, or snap very closely to their ankles. There’s a constant game of cat and mouse as everyone (the reader included) waits to see Lia’s fate.
It’s a beautiful, raw, and unabashedly REAL book. It’s not sugar-coated, but it also is a bright light of hope, and a strong message to all to get out there and make a difference. You could save a life; maybe even the person’s closest to you.