An actual love story
The title makes you wonder. “Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie” by Jordan Sonnenblick. What could it possibly be about? Well, I’ll tell you right now that this book has cancer in it. This seems to be becoming a cliche, doesn’t it? Let’s think: if I was an author who wanted to create a good romantic novel, I’d give one of the lovebirds an illness of some kind, and I’d have people crying up and down the streets about how so-and-so can’t live without so-and-so. I’d be a success. See, I’m a hopeless romantic myself, and I can’t resist the powerful love that comes out of awful situations like those in these kinds of novels. But I will say that not one of these romantic “cancer books” got me the way “Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie” did. By the time I had finished page one, I was completely captivated by Sonnenblick’s hilarious style and the protagonist’s stunning quirkiness. Our teenage hero from the novel, Steven Alper, took me on a journey through his interesting eighth grade year, and I was breathless as he showed me how he fell in love with life.
In the book, Steven has three things on his mind: drums, girls, and how absolutely annoying his little brother Jeffrey is. An incident involving a pair of very special drum sticks and a concoction called “Dangerous Pie” by the five-year-old Jeffrey just about pushes Steven over the edge. I won’t lie. I would have flipped out too– I’ll let you read the book to experience the true chaos of this scene.
See, I have two younger sisters. I know what it feels like to see little ones grabbing and throwing and playing with important things of mine, but what happened to Steven and his family months later, after many more aggravating Jeffrey moments, really made me and Steven appreciate what we have. Jeffrey’s Dangerous Pie made me think. It made me think about all of my sisters’ antics and all the ridiculous little things that they do to annoy me. And then I thought, “What if all of that was gone? What if it was gone forever?” I would miss it, honestly. Steven and Jeffrey and their awful situation helped me realize this.
Don’t worry, Jeffrey doesn’t die– I scared you, didn’t I? But he was diagnosed with leukemia. I honestly can’t imagine. To have someone as close as a sibling be diagnosed with a sickness as terrifying as cancer is beyond fathomable to me. So, as I read about a nosebleed, a trip to the ER, and a diagnosis, I found myself wan
ting to give my sisters lots of hugs. My emotions hit me like a ton of bricks. I was feeling Steven’s sadness and anger, but most of all, I felt the love. But it wasn’t the kind of love that Hazel and Augustus had, or Greg and Rachel, or any of those other couples we adore. It was a sibling love. Steven realized that he and Jeffrey had more in common than he thought, despite the age difference. They both had so much imagination and spirit, and neither of them gave up hope while Jeffrey and his family struggled with illnesses from the flu to Jeffrey’s leukemia.
And as I turned the pages of this stunning sibling novel that I thought could stun me no longer, Steven meets a girl, Samantha, in the hospital while joining his father in taking Jeffrey to one of his chemotherapy treatments. She was sick like Jeffrey, but that didn’t seem to matter to Steven. He liked her for who she was, despite her illness. A friendship was built upon trust, and really, a common thread of cancer. I think that a single friend in a dark time is all we really need, and Sam was there for Steven, and Steven for Sam. He taught her how to play drumbeats on his practice pad, and he let her use his “Special Sticks.” Their connection was so instantaneous and wonderful that I couldn’t help but squeal at the kindness and beauty that was unfolding before my imagination as I read. Meanwhile, school is killing Steven, and two very attractive girls try to reach out to him– something he’s wanted since the beginning of the story– but all he
can think about is Jeffrey and how his family seems to be falling apart. Sam helped Steven, though there was a wall between them because of Sam’s health. But their connection was a wonder. Having only just met, the two had an instant click of character, and I don’t think that happens all the time. Sam and Steven met for a reason: to pull each other through. I think Sonnenblick wanted us to wonder. I like that the story left us wondering what was ahead, and wishing that some things were different, but also loving the beauty of everything that happened.
I promise you, I have never read a book so moving. A kind of love that stretched beyond the cliche of romantic love wrapped me up as I read, and I couldn’t tear myself away. Essentially, I fell in love with Dangerous Pie.