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From Ant to Eagle: 12/19/17

From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle

From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle uses an opening tactic that I normally dislike, but here it's necessary. It opens with the first person protagonist telling the ending. Calvin Sinclair tells us up front that his brother is dead and feels responsible. He goes so far as to say he killed his brother. The remainder of the book is the last few months of Sammy Sinclair's life but how he died and what, if any, Calvin's part in it really was, is what gets answered.

I feel it's necessary here because Sammy's death isn't a way to escape the consequences of it. Nor is it a way to avoid writing the ending. Rather, the book is about recognizing when a loved one is ill and learning how to live with them and love them and support them when they are critically ill. It's also about coming to terms with the harsh reality that not all diagnoses are the same and that it's okay to feel resentment when someone else gets a better one, but eventually you'll need to move on.

The novel is written by a pediatric oncologist. So that's your big clue as to what kills Sammy. It also means that the details of Sammy's illness and decline aren't done haphazardly. His cancer isn't there for drama or melodrama. This is more of a slice of life book, set in the 1990s, that happens to be focused on how cancer affects families.

The set up to the story is the Sinclair family moving to London, Ontario. Although they were originally from Toronto (which is about ninety minutes or so away, assuming good driving conditions), London might as well be on a another planet. It was also one of the areas we were thinking of moving to (albeit it very briefly as we pretty quickly settled on Kitchener). So although Calvin begins his book also having to explain where London is and how sick and tired he is of people assuming he means London, England — I knew right were he was.

The rural town setting is also important because it gives an opportunity to see how other families of different backgrounds deal with pediatric cancer. One of the people Calvin meets is a Mennonite teenager who has been living in the hospital, completely separated from his huge family for a variety of reasons. The compromises his parents have to make to give their son a chance at recovery are vast and heartbreaking, even though their son's chance of survival is better than Sammy's from the very beginning.

The author currently lives and works in Calgary, Alberta.

Four stars

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