A Rose for Melinda
The young adult section of my library has scads of books by Lurlene McDaniel, and they go out all the time. So when I was given a chance to review her newest, A Rose for Melinda, I jumped at it. I was long overdue to read McDaniel, but I’d hesitated because her books always seem to be about illness and death. After reading this one, I can see what teens like about her.
Melinda Skye and Jesse Rose meet in the first grade, and Jesse is instantly smitten. The two of them form a fast friendship that survives the wreck of Jesse’s parents’ marriage and his subsequent move to California. They share Christmas cards and other letters, and Melinda begins to dream of Jesse – when she’s not studying ballet, that is. But just as it looks like their long-distance friendship might turn into love, Melinda discovers she has leukemia. Her parents are willing to do anything to save their daughter, even fly in Jesse for moral support. Can Melinda survive the fight for her life?
A Rose for Melinda was a brisk little read; I read it in about an hour and a half. The story is told using snippets from letters, journals, emails, cards, school progress reports, and medical records, which allows the reader to get into the heads of all of the people who love Melinda – her parents, Jesse, and her best friend Bailey. McDaniel touches on some serious issues. Besides Melinda’s struggle with leukemia, other characters must deal with parental divorce and abandonment and the long-term effects of a family breakup.
For the most part, all of the characters’ thoughts and feelings seem very natural and lifelike. Melinda and Bailey are navigating early adolescence, and their thoughts and dialogue ring true. They use hip, youthful language and giggle about boys. Melinda’s mother’s journal entries are much more solemn, mature, and reflective. The entries were all fairly brief, so my attention was in no danger of wandering off. But the flip side of this book’s format is that all of this after-the-fact first person narrative lends a distant and impersonal air to what’s going on. And Melinda’s rougher emotions are not truly explored because the story moves along at such a steady clip and doesn’t have page space for the kind of repetitive emotion battling cancer would produce. Toward the end of the book, Melinda seemed rather suddenly resigned to her illness.
Without giving spoilers, I can’t say whether there’s a Happily Ever After for Melinda and Jesse, but their relationship is gently romantic and considerate and the end of the book is touching. A Rose for Melinda was a tough book to grade. The story McDaniel tells is not the kind of story I generally like to read, but she tells it well. Some serious issues are presented, but nothing your typical teen couldn’t relate to, and the book does a good job telling a story about coming to terms with the unfortunate hands sometimes people are dealt.