April 19, 2012
Twice by Benjamin Rubenstein
When you look at the cover of Twice it's hard to be sure of what to expect. Bright yellow, with a very muscular bald Superman on the cover it certainly doesn't seem like it would be a cancer memoir. But there's a lot of things in this book that don't quite line up with your traditional cancer memoir. For one it's funny. And it certainly doesn't skimp out on naughty thoughts, gross descriptions, and general risque stuff that is more associated with other types of books. But then again Benjamin Rubenstein isn't your traditional cancer survivor.
As a teenager, Benjamin is diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma. Thus begins his chemotherapy treatments, hospital stays, reactions to medications, and the myriad of other things that are associated with cancer treatment. But it's no sweat, Benjamin is Superman. Or at least in his head he is. He will be the BEST cancer patient ever; quick at recovery, master of his feelings. It's lucky he has the brashness of youth to help him sustain this belief. It gets him through some difficult times. Most of all it would come in handy when after defeating the Ewing's he is diagnosed with a second cancer not too far after. This time it attacks his bone marrow and he has to be placed on a transplant list. And the recovery will be harder, more painful, and gives him a multitude of other problems he will have to face for the rest of his life. He has to face all this with his family at his side, and his friends all continuing on with their lives.
Benjamin is a pretty good narrator. He tells it like it is; and while at times I'm skeptical that he held up emotionally as well as he claims, it still reads as very inspirational. And who am I to say he didn't hold up that well? Some people just have better control of their feelings than others. I do wish I would have had a little more insight into his parents throughout the book. They're described very positively but it would have been interesting to see what their actual perspective was; not just Benjamin's interpretation of what he thought they were going through. Towards the end there's a little more light shed on the matter, but not as much as I would have hoped. We are often the stories of the people around us in addition to our own experiences, so it would have made it feel a little more complete for me. I do like how Benjamin described the other patients and the doctors. It fit in line with his trying not to be like the other "sick kids" and offered a lot of insight into his personality.
This book is pretty gritty, dirty, and is definitely chock full of hard language and themes. It's not a warm fuzzy feeling kind of book. Unless you're talking as$-kicking boots with fuzzy trim. This book doesn't leave room for pity. Benjamin tells it matter of fact and doesn't hesitate to curse, describe his bowel movements, share his upchucks with you, and basically gives you the real ride on what it's like to experience cancer. There is no calm repose at his bed thinking grand thoughts of the world. Instead there's playstation and poisonous liquids seeping into veins. And I think that's what makes this book so much more inspirational than a lot of other cancer memoirs. Everyone who goes through it is ultimately a stronger person; but with Benjamin you can really see it. And it doesn't hurt that he's a very humourous writer as well. It feels wrong to laugh at a book describing a kid going through cancer, but you just can't help it with this one. About the only thing I couldn't hack with this writing was the endless descriptions of vomit; I don't do well with bodily fluids, even if they're only in text form. But I didn't get sympathy hurls, so they weren't really too bad I suppose.
I would definitely recommend this to anyone who has had an experience with cancer. It might at the very least give them a laugh or a whole lot of inspiration and dare I say even a little hope. Because if a previously curly-headed kid can be superman, maybe others can too.