Sam is a 12 year old boy with leukemia. He starts writing at home, because he’s too ill to attend school, and starts making lists of questions he wants answered, and of things he wants to do before he dies. He writes in a very honest and open way about his fears, hopes and worries about dying, and what the rest of his family are experiencing. At the same time, though, there’s a depth to it because Sam doesn’t explicitly describe a lot – he ignores his parents’ relationship, his sister’s emotional difficulties and other things he alludes to but doesn’t want to go into detail about because it would mean getting too close to the fact that he is going to die.
There’s no arguing with that. Nicholls makes it clear from the beginning that this is the last stage of Sam’s illness; chemotherapy has stopped and he’s taking something experimental to prolong the rest of his life. The book itself is both funny and sad. She walks a fine line well, making Sam a genuinely likable character who you get to really feel for. It’s a terrible thing, in a way, because there’s the inevitability about this character but you keep hoping for the miracle.
I think it’s important that authors write things like this for children. Novels like this are a great way to introduce children – and adults! – to quite scary, difficult topics. I wouldn’t give this to a young child, but to a teenager who’s starting to come to terms with these ideas, it’d be something very thought provoking.