How One Camp Taught Me About Life, Death, and Hope
Graphix (Scholastic), 2023. 240 pages.
Review written May 6, 2023, from a library book.
Sunshine is another graphic novel memoir from the brilliant Jarrett Krosoczka. But this one, unlike Hey, Kiddo isn't about his difficult growing-up years so much as about a transformational experience he had the summer he was sixteen -- working as an intern at Camp Sunshine, a camp for families who have a child with a life-threatening illness.
I'll say right up front that I did not read this at a good time, and don't actually recommend it to anyone in my family. It's too much right now. Because two weeks ago my six-year-old niece Meredith was diagnosed with relapsed leukemia. After being initially diagnosed at three years old, she's been through two years of treatments, and then a year we all thought she was fine, and now she's relapsed. So when the sweet little kid pictured on the cover of this book had the exact same diagnosis as Meredith -- and in the last chapter relapsed and died (some time after the camp experience) -- it just had me sobbing.
It is a terrible thing when kids die.
But the beauty of the camp experience was that they gave those kids a chance to be the normal ones, a chance to goof off and play with friends and just be kids. And a chance for their personalities to shine through, way past the fact that they were sick. And a chance for people working at the camp to come to love them.
The author says right at the start:
Just about everyone who asks about the experience seems to have the same knee-jerk reaction: It must have been so sad.
But that could not be further from the truth. I mean, a camp for pediatric cancer patients shouldn't be sad -- those kids already have enough to deal with.
No, camp was happy, the happiest place I've ever been. It was a space where illness didn't define the campers while they defied their diagnoses. It was uplifting, celebratory.
The kids I met weren't dying -- they were living. Living life to its fullest.
All these years later, there isn't a day that goes by when I don't think of them.
So yes, this book will touch your heart. And even though it struck way too close to home for me, I'm glad I read it. And I love the way he celebrated the lives of those kids. And showed that even kids whose lives are way too short make this world a better place, just by being ordinary kids.
[And medicine is constantly getting better and that was many years ago and we don't even know Meredith's prognosis yet.]
Excuse me, I'm going to go cry a bit more.
Edited to add: After some more reflection, I'm bothered by a conversation depicted in the middle of the book. A kid is talking about giving his brother a bone marrow transplant. The doctors broke his leg to do it, and the brother had to be in extreme isolation for six months. What this needs is a note that treatment has changed since then. Now they do stem cell transplants, and the stem cells are taken from their blood. No bones get broken!I would hate to have a kid whose sibling needs a bone marrow transplant (such as my other niece and nephew) read this and think they'd have to have a bone broken. Even if that was true when Jarrett was in high school. There should be some follow-up notes reminding readers that cancer treatments improve all the time.