Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mom's Cancer

Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies. Image, an Imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Copy supplied by publisher in support of the Cybils. Graphic Novel. Cybils long list.

The Plot: An nonfiction book about the experience of the author and his sisters as their mother battles cancer.

The Good: This was begun as an anonymous web comic; something personal that touched many people with its universal story; what happens to a family when one member is sick. How do the family members deal with it?

This isn't a Hallmark Made for TV version of illness, where by golly we all pull together and are better because of cancer! Cancer sucks. Cancer kills. And stress is hard and difficulty and can bring out the ugly.

Brian and his siblings fill roles that are familiar to anyone who has had a family member suffer thru a long illness: there is Nurse Sis (who knows it all, being the nurse); Kid Sis (the caretaker), and Brian.

Brian's role? Research Guy. "I was a ninety-ninth percentile child. In school, I read entire textbooks and retained it all. I spent months doodling. I majored in physics, worked as a chemist, journalist, and science writer. Sot there was only one thing to do when Mom got ill: read the books . . . find the resources . . . flip on the scary smart switch I was too lazy to use most of the time . . . and cure cancer."

Insight into the burden of the caretaker: "What matters is that Kid Sis lives with everything. Nurse Sis and I can go home to escape. She hears the hacking cough in the night. Listens for the sound of bone shattering on the floor. Sometimes I need to remember that."

Why does this work so well in a graphic novel format? Part of it is that the changes in the mother are more drastic because we see it; words can create a distance, as they describe; especially as they try to describe something to someone who doesn't know. It's a greater impact to see Mom in her hospital chair, hooked up to medicine, than to read about it. It's a greater impact to not realize that Mom has lost weight, lost her hair, until you see the sixth or so panel and then to flip back and notice the small changes, panel by panel.

There is humor here; the father changed from physician to hippy man with ponytail man: "Some note how easy it is to reject materialism when you have your own compound and a sizable inheritance in the bank."

Links: Kid Sis is living in Hollywood and is very, very funny.
Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Weblog GN Awards, winner "Best True Story"
AmoxCalli review
Reading YA: Readers Rants review


Brian Fies said...

Thank you! I appreciate the recognition and your insight. Nice blog, too. Best, Brian

Liz B said...


Thank you for the story; I only wish I'd read it earlier, after my grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. We had a nurse sis and a caretaker sis and a research sis; it's interesting how I saw the same roles in our family in yours. Even reading it two years after she died, it helped.