Author: Karen Rivers
288 Pages–Ages 9-13
Published by: Algonquin Young Readers on 14 March 2017
Things Mischa “Ish” Love will miss when she goes to Mars: lying on the living room floor watching TV, ice cream, her parrot Buzz Aldrin. Things Ish Love will not miss when she goes to Mars: mosquitoes, heat waves, missing her former best friend Tig.
Ish is convinced that she’ll be one of the first settlers on Mars. She’s applied to—and been rejected from—the Mars Now project forty-seven times, but the mission won’t leave for ten years and Ish hasn’t given up hope. She also hasn’t given up hope that Tig will be her best friend again (not that she’d ever admit that to anyone, least of all herself). When Ish collapses on the first day of seventh grade, she gets a diagnosis that threatens all her future plans. As Ish fights cancer, she dreams in vivid detail about the Martian adventures she’s always known she’d have—and makes unexpected discoveries about love, fate, and her place in the vast universe.
I picked up this book at my local library. I was browsing the kids section and this cover caught my eye. I read the inside flap and was slightly disappointed because it wasn’t about what I thought it would be about. By the title, I figured it would be a sweet middle grade romance story, instead it’s about a girl who lives with a tragedy. I then proceeded to debate with myself whether I should check it out or not. Eventually I settled on yes, in no small part due to the fact I didn’t know what kind of tragedy would happen and I was just curious. Although, I could guess that it would be some illness. To be honest, I was betting a car accident or leukemia or something. I figured I would skim through it at best (sometimes I do that with books—I don’t even bother to read the whole thing), figure out what happens to Ish, then proceed to put the book down.
I’m hesitant to write anything about this book, mostly because it’s sad and I generally don’t like sad books. Truthfully, I didn’t like the book. But it wasn’t because of any shortcomings; I just don’t like the subject matter. But it’s worth mentioning that I did finish the book from front to back. I read every single word mostly because, against my better judgement, I was hoping Ish would make some sort of miraculous recovery against the brain tumor. Well she doesn’t. The ending it left sort of ambiguous; there’s no actual statement that she’s died, but the metaphor the author used throughout the book heavily suggests Ish doesn’t make it.
Aside from the cancer thing, which I didn’t like, there was an aspect of this book I really did like. It was something so easily to relate to. At the beginning, even before the brain tumor, Ish is already suffering from the loss of her best friend, Tig. He’s moved away and even though he promised to write, he didn’t. Typical man. Ish handles it the way you might expect a scorned lover to, although she insists she’s mourning the loss of a friend not a boyfriend. She constantly says he’s dead and that she’s better off without him (we both know she’s lying to herself). She repeats over and over that she doesn’t care what happens to him and that she’s forgotten all about him, but he’s constantly on her mind. It’s all the actions of a typical breakup, except Ish is truly just mourning the loss of a friend. Ish considers herself an outsider and Tig was the one person she could be happy with. But when he left she’s all alone and she likely just misses his company. The greater the dependence, the bigger the hole. And she depended on him a lot.
One of the dreams she shared with Tig was that she wanted to go to Mars and colonize it. She thought she would be the first women to do so and every day she would apply to a program that sponsored sending people to space, but every day she would be rejected. At first people tell Ish she will not be able to go because she is sick, but Ish rationalizes to herself that she is actually the best candidate now because of her tumor. Mars suffers from radiation and Ish think that the radiation will actually help get rid of her tumor instead of hurt her. It was heartbreaking for Ish to finally say to herself that she’s never going to Mars, her one life-long dream. Through most of the book she remains somewhat hopeful, not that she will be cured but that she will finally be able to go to Mars. Once she admits to herself she will never see Mars, she’s basically accepted that her life is over.
I can’t say I regret picking up this book, but I can’t say I’m glad I read it either. Watching a child die is not something I enjoy and being in their head as they are dying is not any better. I didn’t cry while reading this book, but I did feel a slight bout of melancholy at poor Ish’s situation.