A while back I did an interview with author Rosa Fontana about her novel “The Directive” and her life with Crohn’s. You can read her fabulous responses here. But her book is so wonderful that I just have to do a proper review of it too. If her interview didn’t convince you that you HAVE to read this book, I hope this review will.
I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about this book. And I can think of many specific things I loved about it. Somewhere in the very first chapter I had to stop for a moment to savor how much I was enjoying reading this. It reminded me why I love to read and I promised myself to read more from that moment on.
So what’s the story? At first, it’s just a glimpse into the life of a fairly normal girl. She’s extremely introverted, which of course resonated with me. And any spoonie will appreciate right from the onset the little details used to describe emotion. Being a book about Crohn’s, Lynne, our main character, feels a lot of her emotions with her gut. It’s a unique motif that’s easy to relate to whether you have a bowel disease or not.
Another thing I love about our protagonist is that she’s an English major, so she makes a lot of references to literature and poetry. I LOVE that. Lynne is such a real character, she feels like someone you’re sure you’ve met before. The other main character, Peter, is also very fleshed out and three-dimensional, but Peter is more like someone you wish you’d met. Everyone wants to be a Peter, and we’re all Lynnes. That’s perfect, because Lynne wants to be more like Peter too. He’s a lot like Peter Pan actually – a dream boy. Endlessly positive. Full of life.
She meets him at the hospital and he’s got Crohn’s as well. He’s been sick a long time and has gotten very good at it – if you’ve had a chronic illness for a while you’ll know what I mean. Lynne, on the other hand, is newly diagnosed and adjusting. These two states juxtaposed are so powerful when you’ve been in both places. And for anyone who has a life free of illness, this is a great look into the different “stages” of chronic illness.
This is an amazing tool to simply understand chronic illness, specifically Crohn’s. It is NEVER boring and never feels like a textbook – every bit of information has weight to it because you’re worried about Lynne. It never just throws facts and figures at you – you find them out in consequence. Life is on the line. You’re educated exactly as you would be if it was your own life on the line, and you were looking for answers. What a brilliant way to educate people. Fiction is a powerful tool. Unlike biographies and non-fiction I’ve read about people’s lives with illness, this is entertaining. If you write out every detail of your experience, however emotional it was for you, it won’t hook people and pull them in. It can – I believe biographies can read a lot like fiction – but it seldom does. Stopping to explain is the worst way to teach. People love stories. Make them feel. Make them WANT to know more because they have a stake in it. This book does that expertly.
Got a bit sidetracked there – CAN YOU TELL I LOVE THIS BOOK? So back to the story. Lynne ends up in the hospital and meets Peter. While doctors and nurses teach her how to manage her illness, Peter teaches her how to thrive with it. And in case you didn’t know, Crohn’s is actually a deadly disease. There are lots of life or death moments in this story. Lynne has to make harrowing choices that could literally kill her if she chooses wrong.
But wait! There’s more! Because chronic illness is never simple. Lynne must also make choices about her education, something dear to her heart that makes her feel like a functioning part of society. Despite doing her best, she ends up having to drop most of her classes. And then there’s her family life. Her parents are divorced and, being new to hospital life, aren’t the greatest support group. Especially seeing them next to Peter’s loving family, you can really feel Lynne’s frustration with them. They don’t understand her illness, they don’t know how to be there for her, and that’s something really real. You don’t quite want to hate them, but you’re close. You wish they would just know what Lynne needs! Why can’t they just — boy, this is hitting close to home!
BUT WAIT cause there’s a ton more that I can’t even write about because I don’t want to spoil anything for you. What I will say is that this book has got some twists – yes, twists plural. You feel like you kinda know what kind of book this is – she gets sick, she goes to the hospital, she learns warm fuzzy life lessons. BUT THEN— I can’t spoil it. I can’t. You just have to read it. The last few chapters are a trip. You’ll be like whoa….WHOA…..WHOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAA WHAT IS HAPPENING OMGGGGGGGGG. Yes. Just like that.
GO READ IT. STOP READING THIS AND GO READ IT NOW.