Description from Good Reads:
5:30 a.m., Brianna Pelletier gets ready for her daily pounding. As she lies on the couch, her dad beats her chest, then her back, coaxing the mucus out of her lungs. The pounding doesn’t take care of everything. Brianna’s held out for a long time, but a body with cystic fibrosis doesn’t last forever. It doesn’t matter that Brianna has a brilliant mathematical mind or that she’s a shoo-in for MIT. Or even that her two best friends are beautiful, popular, and loyal. In the grand scheme of things, none of that stuff matters at all. The standard life, lasting maybe seventy-five years, is no more than a speck in the sum total of the universe. At eighteen, and doubting she’ll make nineteen, Brianna is practically a nonentity. Of course she’s done the math. But in her senior year of high school, Brianna learns of another kind of math, in which an infinitely small, near-zero quantity can have profound effects on an entire system. If these tiny quantities didn’t exist, things wouldn’t make the same sense.
Funny, tear-jerking, and memorable, the author’s second novel for teens introduces readers to an extraordinary girl who learns that the meaning of forever can change, and that life – and death – is filled with infinite possibilities.
I have never know anyone with cystic fibrosis, but I remember being deeply affected by Frank Deford’s Alex: The Life of a Child when I read it as a child. (Excellent book which is still in print if you want a real tear jerker.) Because of the advancements since 1980, the life that the main character leads in Forever Changes is different than the life of Alex, but only to a certain extent. Despite the past 25+ years, there is still no cure for CF, and the chances of someone with CF living a long life are very small.
Brianna is very aware that her time in this world is quickly running out, especially after watching her friend, Molly, die from CF. As everyone around her can focus on nothing but getting in to college, she can’t help but wonder if it is worth her effort to apply if she might not be alive in a year. I liked the character of Brianna. I liked that she could allow herself to enjoy being a teenager, but was never shallow and silly about her time in this life and was realistic about her illness. I really appreciated that she did not cling to the stereotypical teen dreams of attending prom or dating the perfect guy. Not every teenager has those types of goals and I love seeing one of those represented at such a serious point in life.
Brianna is aware of the social hierarchy in high school and the importance of appearances, but that does not stop her from embracing her love of math. At times, math is actually what can help her cope; figuring out equations in her head centers her. She develops a friendship with her math teacher, Mr. Eccles, who helps her begin to understand the importance of every number/being, no matter how small, or short their life might be. I really liked the way Halpin ties life and math together in this novel. I was never a math whiz, and I wish I had a teacher like Mr. Eccles who might have given me a different approach to math in my head. Mr. Eccles is also who helps Brianna see a reason to hope to go to college.
The other characters in the novel are less developed, but this was not much of an issue to me as they exist to support Brianna, not provide side stories or anything. I did enjoy the plot of the book, the way Brianna juggles a wide variety of issues – break-ups, divorce, college applications, while facing the knowledge that her body can only take so much. I especially appreciated the fact that I did not know where the book would end. There were several potential ending I felt were being set up by Halpin, and I always enjoy it more when I cannot exactly predict how a book will conclude. That being said, I never found myself completely absorbed into the novel. But this did not stop my enjoyment of it and the character of Brianna, and it will not prevent me from recommending it to my students who enjoy realistic novels.
This book was published last fall, so it should be available in stores and libraries. I haven’t purchased it yet for my school library but will.