Using innovative page design, Frank crafts an unflinching look at illness.
In the emergency room at 4 a.m., Chess is whisked into invasive medical testing—a colonoscopy—and then into a hospital room. She’s had severe gastrointestinal symptoms before, but this is her first diagnosis: the chronic, autoimmune disorder Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease. Her roommate, Shannon, has Crohn’s, too. Their conversations—acerbic, worried, snippy—progress down each page in fast-reading columns of verse. When the curtain between their beds is closed, a vertical line appears between Chess’ text column and Shannon’s, emphasizing the room’s physicality and restriction. A doctor calls Crohn’s “tough and / unpredictable”; Chess finds it disgusting (“gross green bubbles / glub up from my insides, / slip down the tube”), painful (her insides “burn”) and humiliating—especially the mortifying incident that sent her to the emergency room. Chess laughs until she cries, and then “the rage flows, / shocking and unstoppable / as shit.” Her future holds prescriptions, side effects, food restrictions, flare-ups—and remissions. Frank’s portrayal of chronic, mostly invisible sickness is spot-on. Illness isn’t metaphor, it isn’t a consequence, it isn’t a literary vehicle—it’s a precarious and uprooting fact of life, inconvenient and enraging, but not the end of the world.
"The teenage years are normally full of terrifying, incredible, and dramatic changes on so many levels. In the struggle to just be normal amid all that, something like the diagnosis of a chronic disease can seem like the end of the world. It's a cruel time in life to be saddled with what's often perceived as another weakness. But this touching novel can help all of us to better understand both sides of the issue: the person diagnosed and the people around them. Everybody has something abnormal about them after all, and Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank helps to start breaking down stereotypes and discussion barriers about chronic illness and teens. It will be available in August of this year at your favorite local, independent bookstore."
Full review on blogger Jenny Blenk's website, found here.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY REVIEW
Two girls struggle with Crohn's disease in this moving verse novel from Frank (Lucky Stars). When Chessie winds up in the emergency room after a painful bout of stomach pain and an embarrassing "moment" with a crush, her immediate concern is living through her mortification. During her hospital stay, Chessie grapples not only with tubes up her nose, dietary restrictions, and mood-influencing steroids but also with the psychological effects of being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Her assertive hospital roommate, Shannon, who suffers from a more aggressive form of Crohn's, makes Chessie's diagnosis easier by cracking jokes and airing her grievances, indirectly encouraging Chessie to follow suit. Frank's decision to split the narrative vertically on the page (the middle line represents the curtain between Chessie and Shannon's beds) doesn't always pay off, sometimes distracting from rather than enhancing the verse. But the girls' anger and palpable fear ("How do you know who you are when you can't trust your own body?") contribute to a raw, unsentimental perspective on the fight to keep an illness from overpowering one's identity. Ages 12 – up.
THE HORN BOOK
A high-strung teenager faces the emotional consequences of chronic illness in this poignant novel in verse. Narrator Francesca is having a magical night with a summer crush when she becomes so sick she must be hospitalized. Tethered to the bed by IV tubes and monitors, Chess has little distraction from the anxiety and confusion of hospital life: “Young blue-scrubbed docs filing / in like a line of ducklings to gather / round my bed? / Could the ‘patient’ person / they’re talking about be me?” Chess’s timid nature leaves her feeling frustrated and helpless against the myriad dehumanizing experiences essential to intensive medical care, but her roommate—fiery, sharp-tongued, casually profane Shannon—shows Chess another way. Shannon’s toughness and no-nonsense attitude helps Chess process and accept the humiliating incident that brought her to the hospital and empowers Chess to take charge of her health and treatment. The girls’ candid dialogue is printed cleverly along opposite margins, a “curtain” dividing the two. Carefully rendered details (instead of magazines, Chess requests “running shoes, / a black bikini, a bottle of sriracha, / a kite, a Bernese mountain dog”) characterize Chess and Shannon well beyond their shared diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. A sympathetic and illuminating story of illness, friendship, and resilience.