My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received an ARC via NetGalley for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.
In that one moment her perfect, prima-ballerina, pink-tutu world fell off its pointe. She wasn’t Cason Marting, prima ballerina, anymore. She was Cason Martin, number T7654908, cancer patient.
Bravo to debut author Kati Gardner for this amazing story about a prima ballerina with cancer and a recovering drug addict fighting the need to use again. It’s a story about real life situations and how we deal emotionally and mentally as everything comes crashing down in cruel, sweeping blows. About how two people from different backgrounds are brought together by one of the worlds most devastating killers: cancer. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book where I fully connected to the characters, and because of this Gardner’s novel struck a familiar emotional chord within me; a chord that can be hard to avoid playing because it’s so painful and scary.
Seventeen year old Cason is the Prima Ballerina for the Atlanta Ballet Company, and she got there not only by hard work, but also because of her stern, overly critical mother, whom Cason calls Natalie instead of mom. What Cason doesn’t know is that the pain in her leg isn’t a spran, it’s really cancer turning the bones in her leg to mush. During her audition for the American Ballet Theater based in New York, she breaks her leg. Cason soon finds out she has an aggressive form of cancer called Ewings Sarcoma…and with that, all of her dreams of going to New York and becoming the worlds best prima ballerina gets flushed down the toilet.
Davis is a recovering drug addict who is sentenced to community service in the hospital wing for cancer patients. He was there once a few years ago battling against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which overcame. Davis was caught with drugs and charged with intent to distribute, but at 17, going to NA meetings, and receiving help from a doctor who saved his life once already, he’s given 300 hours of community service. And even though Davis has been sober for almost a year, he still fights with his demons, always thinking “Just one hit. Just one.” The need to score some dope is always creeping in the back of his mind, especially when things get tough. Not only is he still fighting the urge to use again, but his ex-girlfriend continues to pop up in the most inconvenient ways, asking him to help her find some dope or begging him to pay the money she owes to Ethan – Davis’s ex-dealer. He also carries the guilt of being the person to get his ex-girlfriend addicted, something that his ex always throws at him while she’s trying to manipulate him for more drugs or money.
It is during Davis’s community service and Cason’s chemotherapy that the two meet. Sparks fly soon after, and it isn’t long before they start to care for one another in a romantic way. The beautiful thing is that Davis finds Cason beautiful, even without hair and (view spoiler). And Cason cares for Davis, even though he has a past. Both characters are dealing with their own issues but they’re constantly brought together because of past choices and current circumstances. Davis is a safe place for Cason to utter her dark thoughts and deepest fears and the only person she can count on to truly understand how she feels as her own mother can’t seem to come to terms with Cason’s cancer, or the fact that Cason will never be the ballet dancer her mother has trained her to be. And Cason becomes one of the reasons why Davis must continue to fight for sobriety.
I tend to stay away from books with highly emotional and social themes, simply because they are triggering for me, but I couldn’t help myself with this one. Cason goes through some serious depression in this book, and the way Gardner writes about Cason’s feelings and reactions to each life-altering and crushing hurtle, I couldn’t help but be transported back to my days of suicidal depression. Cason’s dark thoughts align with those who simply just want life to end; Cason certainly sounded a lot like me when I just wanted life to stop…to be dead. But with every challenge that is thrown at Cason, these kinds of thoughts are to be expected, and so I was able to really empathize with this character on such a deep, deep level.
Now, you don’t have to have dealt with these kinds of thoughts to understand because Gardner writes Cason so well that it’s easy to put ourself in her situation to understand her line of thinking. I couldn’t help but feel the same negative thinking that Cason has when (view spoiler)…I certainly wouldn’t think I’d be able to live like that. But it’s seeing Cason come to terms with what she’s lost and fighting for her life that makes this story so beautiful…because even if we lose parts of ourself, physical and mental, we can accept it, gain strength from it, and create something even better in place of what we’ve lost. It’s an uphill, life-long battle but it’s totally worth it in the end. And I know this on a deep level…
And when you read the author’s note, you realize why this story is so realistic and honest. Author Kati Gardner battled with Ewings Sarcoma just like Cason does. So thank you Kati for this amazing book.
SONG I LISTENED TO WHILE WRITING REVIEW