Found via: Publisher's Weekly 5/10
While the recipe for pancakes is relatively simple (especially if you're like me and rely on Bisquick to provide two-thirds of your recipe), the recipe for a great novel is much more difficult. Robin Epstein, however, has taken disparate ingredients - coming of age, intergenerational relationships, a pinch of romance, and heavy questions of faith and life and death - to concoct a delicious story.
Grace is 15 and has just started her first real job as a candy striper at the local retirement home. The highlight of the position is befriend Frank Sands, who suffers from Lou Gherig's disease. He teaches Grace how to play cards and encourages her dry wit and humor and, unexpectedly, asks her to help him die.
Grace is bewildered and initially refuses. She has too much going on in her life with her overdramatic sister and her sleezy boyfriend, her dad who just walked out, and her best friend Eric is suddenly catching her romantic attention - along with the attentions of half of the girls in school. Plus, while he's lost the use of his legs, Mr. Sands with otherwise healthy, and medical miracles happen all the time, don't they?
As Mr. Sands takes a turn for the worse, Grace finally meets his wife Isabelle, and finds herself even more torn. Mr. Sands is obviously losing his fight, but how can she be responsible for the death of Izzy's husband? They are both her friends, and she doesn't want to hurt either of them. As she turns to a god she thought she abandoned when her father moved out, Grace finds herself wrestling with difficult decisions that are way over her head, but she is determined to handle them with all the maturity and strength she can.
I love, love, love Grace. Her voice is totally authentic, believably teen-aged without resorting to or relying on slang and pop culture references. Outside of her struggle and debate over euthanasia, her problems and the way she deals with them are totally relate-able.
Her friendships with Mr. Sands and Izzy, however, are what make this novel stand out. Neither of the adults talk down to Izzy or noticeably treat her as a child - which is perhaps why Mr. Sands feels it's okay to saddle the girl with such a burden as asking her to help him die. Grace keeps coming back to his request over the course of the novel, and there are no easy answers. It's impossible to say whether Grace's ultimate decision is the right one, but it's easy to understand why she felt it was the right one at the right time. Right up until the end, it was impossible to tell what Grace was going to decide.
The running motif of pancakes is fun - Grace used to share post-church pancake brunches with her father and sister, but that tradition falls by the wayside when her father walks out on the family. While Grace questions her faith in God, especially as he seems to refuse to give Grace any answers, she never questions pancakes' ability to make people feel better.