getting by with a little help from your friends

Rob Harrell’s Wink has been out for a while, but I finally got to it by listening to the audiobook. Everyone should read this book. While on the surface it is about a boy going through cancer treatments, as the cover says, it is about “surviving middle school with one eye open.” I don’t always agree when books get extreme love from the book community, but the praise is definitely due on this one.

The story focuses on 12 year old Ross Maloy, who just wants to be a normal kid. He is used to being invisible and kind of likes it that way. While he has been able to stay under the radar, this year is going to be different. Ross has been diagnosed with a rare eye cancer, has to go through radiation treatments, has to wear a hat at all times due to the radiation, loses his hair, and has to put goop on his eye all the time. Not exactly the way anyone wants to go through middle school. He has always had 2 super close friends, but one disappears after the diagnosis. Then to add insult to injury, someone starts making memes about him. No one can fault this kid when he just feels like the world is falling down around him.

But here is the other thing, and the part that will resonate with many people, there are people and experiences in Ross’s life that help bring hope and joy, even in what seems like the absolute worst conditions. Ross’s radiation tech, Frank, is a young guy who can’t believe that a 12 year old is listening to adult pop and shows Ross the real power in music, especially when you need some good, loud, angry rock. He befriends a fellow cancer patient who is the kind of soul that everyone could use in their life. An enemy becomes a friend and someone he thought was a friend truly hurts him. Assumptions are made and don’t always come true.

Part way through the book Ross starts taking guitar lessons with Frank. This is something of a turning point for Ross and extra meaningful for me given the amount that music touches my life. Also, my 14 year old took up guitar and has become her emotional outlet. Music has an amazing way of helping you express things that don’t always come out well with words. It also has a way of bringing people together and was used beautifully in the book.

Ross is also an artist and the book is interspersed with comics. This was kind of a bummer for the audiobook version, but they were read with an old-fashioned radio voice and you could really visualize them. He writes a comic called BatPig who is a representation of himself. This is a great addition to the book as it helps Ross process his emotions and in some ways helps him get through situations.

Wink is definitely a book worth picking up. Kids in middle school and late elementary will enjoy the writing and the story will likely resonate with them on some level.

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