Morgan Matson’s Second Chance Summer (YA)

Every so often something comes along that really tugs at my heart, and Morgan Matson’s Second Chance Summer is one of those novels. Categorized as young adult fiction – perhaps because the protagonist is a teenager – the novel follows Taylor alternating narratives between the present day and events that happened five years in the past.

What would you do if a loved one was dying and you could do nothing to stop it? Would you run away from it, or would you have the strength to face it head-on? In Second Chance Summer, we see a family that appears normal on the surface, but underneath is struggling just to make it through each day.

On Taylor’s birthday, her parents sit her and her siblings down, and inform them that their father has just been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, with only four months left to live. The family decides to go back to their summer lake house in the Poconos – which they’ve rented out for the past five summers – to have one last summer together and bond as a family while they still can; something that none of them are used to doing, as they are all closed off and rarely speak about their emotions with one another. Taylor, in particular, has a habit of running away from things that frighten her, love, friendship, anything emotional. Five years ago, she ran away from the lake house and the two people that she was closest to in the world. Will Taylor be able to face her past and her father’s rapidly deteriorating health, or will she do the one thing that is most natural to her? Will she run away?

Second Chance Summer is about many things, but I think the most prominent theme is time and how it runs out. Without warning. You can’t run away from time any more than you can run away from pain or heartache or the possibility of falling in love. Time doesn’t wait until you’re ready, it keeps moving, ticking away the hours. In one way or another, we are all guilty of running away from something or someone, but, like Taylor realizes in the novel, there are some things that, no matter what you do, you just cannot run away from. You have to stand still. And, by choosing to face it, you will become stronger.

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Finding Beauty in Our Scars

While looking at pictures from this past weekend, I finally figured out what was different about myself, what I no longer recognized. Throughout my life, one of my favorite parts of my body – despite having scoliosis – was my back. I loved the beauty marks that adorned it, especially one in particular. There’s a photograph of me taken at a charity event three years ago. In it, I’m wearing a backless Chanel dress, my head turned over my shoulder so you can see the dress in all its resplendent. My skin is glowing from a recent trip to the beach, and I’m confident, happy and carefree. That night didn’t turn out the way I had expected. I remember being stood up and leaving the event later (earlier?) than I had intended, but at that moment I felt beautiful.

Early last year, after a trip to the dermatologist office where they removed my beloved beauty mark for a biopsy, the results were not good. Not only had it been a necessity to get the biopsy, but it became a life and death matter to have the rest of it removed completely. The beauty mark that I had had all of my life had turned on me. Not only was it cancer, but it was the most dangerous kind. Me, the girl who, at twenty-eight (nearly twenty-nine) had never broken a bone, never had stitches, never had a cavity, was about to experience one of those three (more than once), immediately scheduling surgery for the following day. After excruciating pain, a frustratingly slow recovery and many trips to the dermatologist office since, my body has never been the same.

In place of my beauty mark is a two-plus-inch long scar, and this past weekend was the first time that I had a picture taken of me showing off my back since the surgery. It’s not that it was hard to look at the scar, as I’ve been acquainted with it for over a year now, but it was more that the absence of the beauty mark made my back look foreign, as if it belonged to a different person entirely.

In some ways, my scar does belong to someone else. I’m not the same person that I was three years ago or even fifteen months ago. Things have happened in my life that have changed me, as it does all of us. Some scars – like the one on my back – we can see, while others are less visible but can still cause us the same amount of pain or greater. It is the culmination of all of those scars that make us who we are today. Without them, we would be lost in a sea. So, the next time you think that your scars are ugly, remember the opposite. Our scars are beautiful because they remind us that we are alive and show us our hidden strengths, that if we can overcome that, we can get through anything.

Our scars are beautiful; they are unique, as we all are.

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John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (YA)

In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager living with a cancer that will eventually kill her, and the boy that she falls in love with, Augustus “Gus” Waters. Hazel lives on oxygen tanks and lung machines, as she has stage 4 thyroid cancer that metastasized in her lungs. For the past few years, she has been taking the experimental drug Phalanxifor, which has been her miracle drug, keeping her alive. Gus also has suffered from cancer, losing a leg and a potential basketball career to osteosarcoma, but he is in remission. They meet at a support group that Hazel’s parents force her to attend; Gus was there supporting a friend of his, Isaac, who was losing his eyes to cancer.

At first, Hazel and Gus are just friends; both exchange their favorite books with each other. Gus’s book is a novelization based on his favorite video game, whereas Hazel’s is, what she feels a literary masterpiece, entitled “An Imperial Affliction” – of which she is obsessed. Gus soon becomes obsessed too, and they eventually embark on a journey to Amsterdam to meet the author himself, but at the same time learning one of life’s hardest lessons.

The premise of this book sounds a bit depressing, and at times it is just that, but it is also inspiring. Despite their circumstances, Hazel and Gus fall in love and support each other through the ups and downs of cancer, and in attempts to fulfill last wishes. It is not a novel for the light-hearted, but it is amazing nonetheless. I leave you with a quote!

“I would probably never again see the ocean from thirty thousand feet above, so far up that you can’t make out the waves or any boats, so that the ocean is a great and endless monolith. I could imagine it. I could remember it. But I couldn’t see it again, and it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.”