Campbell Maria is 17. She lives in Florida with her single mother and her sister, 11-year-old Perry. Her mother works as a hula dancer at Disney. In this book Disney is the target of a brilliantly sarcastic assault. Campbell’s job is preparing the fruit boats, table decorations for the Polynesian hotel. And Campbell has terminal cancer.
Campbell has a sharp, cynical wit. Her mother and grandmother keep investigating miracle cures, which Campbell derides. One such miracle cure involves travelling to a small town called Promise in the state of Maine. It is a place of miracles, America’s equivalent of Lourdes. Campbell is reluctant to make the trip. She likes her job and she likes spending time with a boy named Jackson who plays the part of Tigger at Disney. But in the end she is compelled to head north. Her mother’s boyfriend gives Perry a notebook in which to record the miracles as they occur.
In Maine to her own surprise, Campbell feels her gloom start to lift. This is partly the consequence of meeting Asher, a boy who works in a local lobster shop. Asher has a mysterious faith in Promise and dreads ever leaving the place. Campbell insists her feelings for Asher are friendly, no more, though no one quite believes her. Asher takes his boat out to sea and the predictable tempest duly follows. Campbell is left facing the fact that she loves Asher, while she waits to see if he will survive the storm and feels her own life gradually ebbing away. The final scene of the book is a calculated tear-jerker.
Campbell’s courage in the face of fatal illness, reflected in her sharp cynicism, is a serious literary accomplishment. The medical details of the story are well rehearsed and convincing: we cannot envy the author the task of conducting such research. On one point the author slips into regrettable language: something Campbell does that is clumsy and gauche is referred to as ‘autistic’.
After the skilful dissection of Disney and the accurate and moving account of the medical regime, the clinical accuracy of the narrative gives way to a ‘Love Story’ sentimentality. Such a conclusion, common enough in teen fiction, sits ill at ease with the bitter realism of the book’s opening. Did the author lose her nerve?