Those who've lived through the teenage years with diabetes know how trying it can be. Adolescence is tough enough without the complexity of bouncing blood sugars and inevitably asking that universal question: "Why me?"
Those thoughts come alive in a new-ish novel (published June 2017) for teens and young adults called Lucky Few, by author Kathryn Ormsbee. It covers teen angst with diabetes as a big part of the backdrop.
While this is not a story about diabetes per se, it's one of those reads that's a perfect fit for any teenager with diabetes, and parents who might be trying to gain insight into what their own T1D teen might be thinking and experiencing.
This 368-pager revolves around 16-year-old Stevie Hart, a home-schooled teenager in the Austin, TX, area diagnosed with type 1 when she was 8 years old. She's grappling with navigating a number of big life issues -- friendships, romance, activism, and mortality. That last one is a big plot point, as she meets new neighbor Max Garza (OMG, a new cute boy next door!), who goes through a scary near-fatal accident that ends up sending them on a strange, macabre adventure -- a two-month-long quest to carry out a checklist of "23 Ways to Fake My Death Without Dying."
Max is determined to carry out each counterfeit death, from impalement to spontaneous combustion, but as the book jacket notes, "As Stevie finds herself falling for Max, it becomes increasingly difficult to draw a line between his make-believe deaths and her real life." Naturally, Stevie begins to ponder her own health and "near-death" experience being diagnosed with T1D.
The book has garnered a lot of praise for being sweet and funny, for offering one of the best depictions of a home-schooler, and for capturing the "delightful weirdness" of the Austin area and its inhabitants. And for some, it stands as "the best book with a diabetic main character I have ever read."
Author Kathryn Ormsbee tells us that she does have a personal connection to diabetes, though she's not living with it herself. Her mother, uncle, and both grandfathers all had or have type 2, while two good friends have T1D. Those experiences influenced her writing.
"Living with and around these family and friends impressed upon me how diabetes affected their daily lives, and how they dealt with misinformed individuals. One of my friends worked for over a year to find a way to volunteer abroad in Nepal while dealing with organizations and individuals who did not understand or were not willing to work with her medical needs... And (I noticed) how they rarely saw individuals with diabetes represented in stories," Ormsbee told us.
As a result of all that, Ormbsee says she was very intentional with how diabetes played into her character's life and the overall story -- especially in context for teenage readers.
"While I incorporated Stevie's diabetes and health management as an important part of her life, they are not the focal point of the story," she said.
In fact, the first mention of diabetes in the book isn't even an explanatory one; it's in an early chapter during a car ride where Stevie checks her messenger bag to make sure she has everything she needs, including water bottle, chewing gum, cell phone, and yes -- glucose tabs and insulin pen! For the most part, that's how diabetes is weaved into the story: just casually, not a big deal. Just another part of life, which includes carrying necessary supplies, the timing of meals, and worries about going low.
To me, one of the most powerful parts of the story is in Chapter 8, when we get the full detail on Stevie's diabetes diagnosis years earlier at age 8. (Keep in mind I'm reading this from the POV of a guy in his late 30s, who isn't even a parent, but still, I was a teen with T1D myself once.)
While playing outdoors with a friend and enjoying licorice and juice boxes (oh boy!), Stevie fainted and ended up in the ER, and then hospitalized for a week. She remembers her parents asking a lot of questions, and at first she didn't believe them that she wasn't going to die. But eventually that fear passed. She started doing her own injections three years later, and didn't care to be "half-robot" connected to an insulin pump.
In describing her diabetes experience, I found it amusing how Stevie made up a story in her head about being an X-Men type mutant who had superpowers like catching things on fire -- and the only thing keeping those powers in check was to take insulin injections.
"Every time I gave myself a shot, I told myself I was taming the beast within and protecting humanity from myself," one passage reads.
Stevie also describes what she calls her "Unfair Phase," when she wondered why she was cursed with this lifelong disease and the need to do fingerstick tests and take insulin. This brought back memories of my own train of thought in those teen years. I enjoyed how she comes to terms with it during her sophomore year of high school:
"This is how I reasoned it: Some kids are born with bad teeth. Some kids are born with bad eyes or bad lungs or bad coordination. I was born with a bad pancreas, and I could've been born with something a lot worse. I wasn't particularly lucky, but I wasn't particularly unlucky either. And I just had to be OK with that."
That about sums it up, really. Much like other fictional novels that mention but don't focus on diabetes, Lucky Few does a good job at weaving D-life into various parts of telling the broader story, that happens to be a very charming one indeed. And that's why we highly recommend this book.
Lucky Few is available on Amazon in three formats -- Kindle for $8.99, hardcover for $9.89, and paperback for $10.99.
But before you get ready to purchase a copy, here's your chance to win one for free...
A DMBooks Giveaway
Interested in winning your own free copy of Kathryn Ormsbee's novel, Lucky Few? Here's your chance!
1. Post your comment below and include the codeword "DMBooks" somewhere in the the text to let us know you're hoping to win. Alternatively, you can email us at email@example.com with the subject header, "Lucky Few."
2. You have until next Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, at 5 p.m. PST to enter.
3. The winner will be chosen using Random.org.
4. The winner will be announced on Facebook and Twitter, so make sure you're following us! And please be sure to keep tabs on your email and/or Facebook messenger box, as that's how we contact our winners. (If they don't respond within a week, we select an alternate.)
We'll update this post to let you all know who the lucky winner is.
Good luck, Diabetes Book Buffs!
This contest is now closed. Congrats to Kristin Stringer, who was selected by Random.org as the winner of this giveaway.