What can you say about a 17-year-old who dies? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Ballanchine and Tchaikovsky. And Serge Gainsbourg. And me.
Now that would have been the perfect opening for this book, but apparently Melissa Kantor didn't want to invoke Love Story with her new YA novel, Maybe One Day.
It wasn't until I read this book that I realized that there is a serious dearth of YA novels that treat female friendship as a primary focus. The closest thing I could come up with was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, but those are less about the collective friendship and more about the individual adventures of the girl wearing said pants. So help me out here. What are the great books about female friendship that are aimed at the teen audience? It seems that these days we're either dealing with romance (paranormal or otherwise) or we're dealing with dystopian love triangles. All of which I'm happy to read, to varying degrees, but why aren't there more books out there that are paeans to friendship?
Because honestly, to describe this book, I either have to say that it's Ivy & Bean meets Love Story, which has a serious squick factor, or I have to be cumbersome and say that this is The Fault In Our Stars, minus the romance, the book-within-a-book subplot, and the snarkier-than-thou dialogue.
Zoe and Olivia have been best friends for ages, inseparable at school and in the corps de ballet for younger dancers at the NYBC. These girls have big dreams and big ambition to see them through. When right before junior year, they're released from the corps, they think that it is the worst thing that could happen to them. Then a few weeks into the school year, Olivia gets diagnosed with leukemia.
This book could so easily downshift into melodrama and simply remain there until the end, but I think that Kantor handles the cancer crisis adeptly and realistically. Zoe and Olivia have an amazing friendship, and that really upstages the cancer for much of the book. Yes, there is certainly some melodrama, but it's entirely warranted--this is a book about teenagers, after all, and just how would you feel if your own best friend had cancer?
The writing here is solid, and so are the secondary characters. Olivia's mom, devoutly religious and perfect stay-at-home mom that she is, could so easily have been drawn as a brittle Stepford wife, but she's not. I also loved Stacy, the insufferably perky cheerleader who could have been terribly shallow but turned out to have surprising heart. And Zoe's parents, who were tremendously supportive of her but never allowed her to use Olivia's illness as a crutch or excuse to behave badly. And Calvin, the hunky jerk Olivia has a crush on, but who is also best friends with her older brother and helps out the family by playing with their young twin boys.
And, of course, there's Zoe. Zoe is one of the most realistically drawn teens I've encountered in YA. She breaks my heart. Zoe is incredibly bright, insecure, loyal, misguided, devastated, annoying, sympathetic, emotional, and droid-like. In other words, she's a teenager. She says smart things and does dumb things in equal measure. She gets drunk and makes out with Olivia's crush at a party and then lies to Olivia about it, but she also plans a spectacular birthday celebration with Olivia that passes muster even for Olivia's germaphobic mother. She is fiercely protective and helpless and frustrated; she's no good at all with kids, and she's afraid to dance now, but she still winds up teaching Zoe's volunteer ballet class to inner city kids in Newark when Zoe is too sick to continue. She is complicated and overwhelmed and oh, my goodness, just read this book, will you?
I definitely cried while reading this book, but it was in an entirely satisfying way. I recommend Maybe One Day to all fans of YA and to adult readers of what my coworker calls "relationship fiction." Or, you know, if you happen to like good books.
NB: This book will be published in March 2014 by Harper Teen. I read an advance reading copy that was mailed to my store.