Chess is newly sick and isn’t sure what it is. Stuck in the hospital after a traumatic episode in front of the boy she likes, she’s dealing with intense pain, intense embarrassment, and an uncertain diagnosis. She’s sharing her room with Shannon, who is her polar opposite: rude, loud, profane, and even sicker than Chess. The two girls spend enough time with each other to begin a friendship that will help them both through their diagnoses–and start to heal.
Frank’s novel offers an intriguing, unusual look at the chronic pain of Chron’s Disease from the perspectives of two very different girls. A novel about illness and the way that it interrupts life, this verse novel moves along at a fast pace and offers its readers sparse prose that is mostly engaging and fairly memorable. A book that will work for readers who don’t want a heavy page count as well as those who devour all things verse novel, this is a realistic look at teens who are shouldering the burden of illness (and for once it isn’t about teens coping with cancer).
The novel’s structure is inventive, with a line separating the two girls’ thoughts running down the middle of the page when the curtain in their shared room is drawn closed. It isn’t difficult to pick out each girl’s voice, though: they are distinctive. While it doesn’t feel like this is a novel that had to have been told in verse, the structure doesn’t take anything away from its story.
Overall, this is an incredibly humanizing look at chronic illness, and it remains very authentic to its characters and their struggles. This should work for readers of contemporary YA, especially those who aren’t looking for a romance and like their topics a little messy (no pun intended). Recommended, but not essential.
Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank. Schwartz & Wade: 2014. Library copy.