I was nine when I first saw the cover of the paperback 13 is Too Young to Die (1980 version). I was in fourth grade, and one of my classmates that I was not friends with had this book. She had probably gotten it through a school book fair. I was immediately intrigued by the title, and wanted to read that book. Badly. (I read Rebecca Jones’ Angie and Me the year before, but that book will be the subject of a future entry. And this was before I discovered Lurlene McDaniel.) The school library and the local public library branch did not have a copy of this book. This was before it was incredibly easy to just look up if any library in the system would have had it. I was too shy to ask the library staff to check at other libraries for me.
So, I kept the title in my head for nearly three years – until the school book fair at my junior high in 7th grade. It was there! Yay! I took some of my hard-earned babysitting money, and bought the book (as well as buying a Lurlene McDaniel book, but that is also the subject of another entry). Then in the early 1990s, in a used bookstore, I found what I thought was just a recent reprinting – but it wasn’t. It has the same name, author, and some of the characters’ names are the same, but the story is different in several ways. More about that later.
Let’s look at the covers first.
(I bought this one to the left new 20 years ago. It looks really beat up now, huh?)
In the first one, the one that intrigued me as a 9-year-old, I learned about lupus. This book also made me think that lupus is automatically fatal. Yes, I am giving away the ending. At age 12, when I finally had the chance to read it, I cried and cried. Very melodramatic! I know this book was written thirty years ago now, but all it says on page 86 is that Lupus is “a mystery disease”. Yes, from what I know, it still is somewhat of a mystery, but this book never says that it is an autoimmune disease. Surely this was known back then. I know this book was intended for pre-teens, but still, it could have been a little more specific. I can also see that this book would be a little out of date these days. There are a lot of people out there living with lupus, and I’ve known some.
Alexa is the main character, and the story is in the third person, but told from her perspective. The story opens with Alexa noticing how foggy the island she lives on is, and then her best friend informs her that the island is “like a Polaroid postcard” (page 2) it is so clear and bright.
In chapter two, her mother gets on her case for not taking care of her skin properly. If she were, Alexa wouldn’t have such an ugly rash on her face. Alexa thinks maybe she just scrubbed her face too hard. She mentions going to a dermatologist, but her mom puts her down for that idea, and insists she just must not have good habits.
Well, finally, Alexa ends up in the hospital. However, they, the doctors and her parents, will not tell her what’s going on. They keep her in the dark until she overhears her parents talking. This is how she learns she’s going to die. She still doesn’t know why. After this, the whole story becomes one question. . . will Alexa make it to her 14th birthday? Because “13 is too young to die”. She goes to her school dance, she goes to Disney World with her friends, and her dad gets her the boat he promised for her 14th birthday.
I loved this book as a 12-year-old.
Later, when I was browsing at a used book store (Old Book Barn in Forsyth, Illinois – the best used book store ever!), I found the second version. It was wasn’t just re-released. It was re-written! Again, the main character is named Alexa and the question is if she will make it to age 14. However, this Alexa is a ballet dancer. She is going to actually be in an onstage ballet! Woo-hoo! Then she starts getting dizzy. It turns out she has a brain tumor.
Really, this second version is better written than the first one. It’s not as (what I perceive as) amateurish, but there is still “wailing” and such other descriptions. ” ‘Just go away, and leave me alone,’ Alexa wailed” (68). If it were me with the brain tumor, I might want to wail, but I would not write it this way. The funny thing is, years ago, as a teen, I wanted to write a book this way – I thought I HAD to write with words other than “said” if even that. Now I know better, and know how to find one’s voice in writing.
I will have to decide soon which book or books to post about next. There are so many to choose from!