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Counting Thyme: 11/24/16
Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin is the third middle grade cancer story I've read this year. In this case, it's about an older sister having her entire life disrupted because her brother has a rare nerve cancer. The family has relocated to New York so that he can be in a drug trial.
It seems that in middle grade fiction there are two ways to tell a cancer story: either the family is forced to move because of it or the main character's world is transformed by it.
While I found the family dynamic compelling in Counting Thyme the narrative set up was too much of a hurdle. I'm coming to this book a Californian currently contemplating a cross continental move with an entirely healthy family.
There is a conceit among East Coasters that New York is the be-all and end-all of all things. In this case New York is the ONLY place running clinical trials for pediatric cancer patients. Again, as a Californian, I know that's not the case. There are trials in San Diego, Los Angeles, Davis, and San Francisco.
Of course parents would do anything in their power to get treatment for their child. But let's look at the reality of this situation — San Diegans moving nearly three thousand miles for a trial with an already ill child. A more likely scenario for San Diegans is they would find a trial in state and be put up in a Ronald MacDonald House — rather than that rat trap of an ex-flop house described in the novel.
What I'm saying is, a personal tragedy in a family doesn't have to equate to a cross-country move. A small move, likewise, can be just as disrupting to children as a big one. They will still be taken out of school. They will still be in an area they don't know as well. They will still miss their friends.
So in the case of Thyme and her family, if the story is to be set in New York for the write what you know aspect — then have her start nearby. Have her start in Upstate New York, or in New Jersey, or on Long Island.