Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

Ways to Live Forever coverWhen he is eleven years old, and dying of cancer, Sam decides to write a book. Nothing big — just his own story, and his favourite interesting facts, and the questions that he wishes someone would answer (but no one ever does). Instructed initially just to “write something about yourselves,” Sam discovers that this is a great way to process how he, and the people around him, respond to the expectation the doctors have given that this will be his last battle with cancer.

Sam is particularly fond of lists, and one — an assignment to describe things he’d like to do — ends up providing the central thread through his book. Sam lists eight things that he’d like to do, without believing that any of them is really possible. When his friend, and fellow cancer patient, Felix, challenges him on that, Sam sets out to complete his list. Some are relatively easy: while his mom is busy shopping one afternoon, Sam sneaks off to trek up a down escalator. Others take creative interpretation, like the World Record Setting Occasional Wardrobe Nightclub. And at least one requires the help of his dad, who’s had a hard time believing that his son really won’t be healthy again.

Sam’s story is sometimes intense, often funny, and always very personal. Sam and his family and friends are fully-realised and complex; together they provide an engaging picture of one child’s death that avoids cliché and manipulation while suggesting how others in a similar situation might feel. Sam shows fear and anger, and determination and humour and curiosity. His mother is weary and grieving and expects homework and manners while understanding that sometimes going sledding together is more important than responsibilities. His father denies, and loves, and does what he can to help his son to do something silly and improbable and somehow deeply important. If you’re looking for a novel that is honest and moving, this is one to find.

Find more reviews at The Weaving Knight and Inis Magazine (the publisher’s website also offers a collection of journal reviews).

Watch the trailer for the (so far) limited-release film based on the book. Explore the website to find out how the makers hope to use the film to help fight childhood cancer.

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