Despite having a cancer patient as a major character, this is a joyous book about life, not death. Whether her brush with serious illness brought out her joie de vivre, or whether she was always this way (the story doesn't tell), Johanna's vivaciousness and extroverted certainty are just the tonic for a lonely, introverted boy like Finn. With humor, strong characters, and vivid set pieces, Paulsen shows once again that you don't need a villain to propel a wonderful story.
Veteran author Gary Paulsen had a purpose beyond the story for writing this, something that can be fatal in the hands of a less experienced writer. He says that he "wanted to do something to show that cancer doesn't win, can't win, won't win." But he goes far beyond that, and shows, through Johanna's connecting of Finn to those around him, that connection to community is vital for everyone, and provides the reader with a variety of examples of ways to reach to those around them, none of them expensive or difficult. As usual, Paulsen packs a lot into a small space, and this short book will amuse and delight many young readers.
From the Book:
Matthew and I aren't anything alike. I know, for instance, that it's got to be easier to be Matthew than it is to be me. There's something so . . . easy about the way he does everything. He gets better grades than me, even though he hardly ever studies. He's on about a million teams at school, and whatever he does in football, baseball, basketball, tennis or track, he looks confident in a way that I never do.
He has friends in every group at school: the brainy people, who, even in middle school, are starting to worry about the "com app" (that's the universal college application form, but I only know that because I Googled the word after I heard them talking about it so much); the jocks, who carpool to their orthopedic doctor appointments together and brag about torn cartilage and bad sprains; the theater and band and orchestra members, who call themselves the arty geeks and then laugh, like it's some big joke on everyone else; and, of course, the losers.