Anthem for Jackson Dawes, by Celia Grant (book review) – cancer, friendship, music, and love

book cover of Anthem for Jackson Dawes by Celia Grant published by Bloomsbury Books for Young ReadersCancer?
Stuck in a pediatric ward?
What 13-year-old wants any of that?

When her friends don’t make the trip into London to visit her in the hospital, when the first clumps of her hair start falling out during chemo, only Jackson’s brilliant smile can start to cheer up Megan.

Grab some tissues when you get this memorable book from your local library or independent bookstore for the happy-sad story.

Is our time together here on Earth ever really long enough?

Book info: Anthem for Jackson Dawes / Celia Grant.  Bloomsbury Books for Children, 2013.  [author site]  [publisher site]

My book talk: Stuck in the children’s ward of a London hospital, teens Megan and Jackson battle cancer, boredom, and their unknown futures as they forge a friendship that could be more.

Megan knew these horrible headaches weren’t normal for 13-year-olds, but she’d never have dreamed that a cancerous brain tumor was causing them. Her doctors are quick to order chemo, quick to hustle her into the first available hospital spot, not so quick to realize that being in a noisy ward with little kids isn’t very healing for teenagers… thank goodness she’ll be there a few weeks, then home for a while before the next round. And her friends will come in from the suburbs to visit her, right?

The brightest spot in the whole whirlwind of noise, nausea and IVs is Jackson, another teen like her, stuck in the kiddie ward as he fights off a rare cancer with more and more experimental treatments. But Jackson isn’t like anyone else. Tall, thin, blackest skin, brightest smile, he roams the hospital at all hours, especially where he shouldn’t be going. When Meg is at her lowest, he’ll tell her stories in his late Jamaican grandfather’s accent, sing the songs the two Jacksons shared, for music is his greatest passion.

When she’s home between treatments, Megan is so tired from the chemo that she can’t even go back to school half-days – and forget about playing soccer on the school team as she used to do. Her friends come over, but no one knows what to talk about – cancer will do that, Jackson says. If only Dad wasn’t working so far away, if Granddad could travel to the hospital to cheer everyone up…

Every time Jackson or Megan goes home from the hospital, they miss one another terribly and worry that they won’t be in for treatment at the same time next round. As Megan’s tumor shrinks and her surgery approaches, the pair escapes the ward nightly to wander through the hospital… in search of what?

How many of the kids in their ward will beat their cancer?
Why can’t Megan’s friends understand that it’s still her under the wig?
Are their days and nights in hospital all the time that Megan and Jackson will ever have together?

Full of heart and feeling, but never sentimental, Anthem for Jackson Dawes  pays tribute to all the youngsters who fight full-force against cancer, their caregivers and parents, and their schoolmates and siblings who watch bewildered from the sidelines.  (One of 6,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

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