Anthem for Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce
Format: ARC, 231 pages
Original Release Date (UK): 3 January 2013
US Release Date: 30 April 2013
Age Level: Young Adult
Source: provided, in exchange for an honest review, by the Book Depository Affiliate Program
Purchase: Book Depository | US pre-order at the Book Depository
When Megan Bright arrives on the hospital ward for her first cancer treatment, there is only one other teenager there: Jackson Dawes. He is cute, rebellious... and Megan finds herself falling for him.
Megan is scared and worried about her illness but Jackson seems to be an old hand, having been on the ward for ages. Everybody loves Jackson! He is a whirlwind of life and energy, warmth and sparkle. Megan will need to borrow some of Jackson's extraordinary optimism to face her and Jackson's future.
When we first meet Megan Bright, she has just been admitted into the hospital to begin her chemotherapy treatments for the tumor in her head. Upon her arrival, she runs into the only other teenager in the children's ward, Jackson Dawes. He's all energy and smiles, which annoys the very angry, bitter Megan. She doesn't need a new friend and she certainly doesn't need this boy to bother her. Little does she know that this seemingly annoying boy will become her salvation. Jackson is exactly the person to help her through this most trying of times.
As I said above, Megan is less than pleasant when we first meet her. Off the bat, I wasn't quite sure what to think of Megan. I get that she's angry and annoyed to be in the hospital at all, let alone in the "baby" ward. It can't be easy, but still. I could tell that her mother was trying her best to make Megan feel comfortable in her hospital room, but Megan just wouldn't stop being sullen long enough to notice it. As with many teenagers, she's very much involved in her own problems and doesn't think about how others are affected. Then Jackson comes and literally runs into her, which doesn't improve Megan's mood, but certainly lights up the pages for the reader. Though she is quite moody in the beginning, Jackson is able to help turn Megan around. She really becomes a much more mature, likable and optimistic person by the end.
From the second he bumps into Megan, drip stand in hand, I loved Jackson. He is definitely the shining beacon in this novel. I just really like how full of life he is! Jackson has a super rare form of cancer, one that doesn't even have a name yet, but he's infectiously happy. Regardless of how much he's suffering, he makes it a point to laugh, be friendly, have adventures and make the most out of every moment he has. His personality is contagious, especially when he's trying to help the little ones feel better. He's so wise and gentle with the other children in the ward. He takes time to tell stories and make them laugh with silly faces, jokes and mischievous hijinks. This in turn helps the children forget, if just for a second, about the "bad cells" attacking their body and have some pure joy. As you may be able to tell, I really enjoyed this character. We don't get to find out much about his background, but he's still a gem. I'm glad Megan eventually comes around to his charm, too. Jackson really brings out the best in Megan and all those around him, making him the star of the book, in my opinion.
There were a few other characters that I liked, as well. I was really quite fond of Sister Brewster and Siobhan, who both work with the children in the cancer ward. Celia, the author, really did a great job in depicting these caring adults. You could tell they really love these kids and their job, though it can definitely be difficult and heartbreaking. I was also very fond of Megan's Grandad. He is so adorable! We don't get to "officially" meet him, as his only interactions with Megan are on the phone, but you could tell they have a really tight relationship. He's in his mid-90's, quirky, funny and completely dotes upon his granddaughter. I wish we could have seen more of him and his relationship with Megan. I have a feeling he would have gotten along with Jackson very well indeed. On the ward, there's also a little girl about 6 years old named Kipper. Kipper is a little princess and Megan even says she looks like an angel with her shiny, bald head, big eyes and sparkly pink outfits. As is to be expected when a little one has an illness such as cancer, Kipper isn't always well-behaved. She throws fits and gets emotional, but she really is the cutest little thing. Kipper really broke my heart, I felt so much for her. Such a tiny little child with such a huge thing happening to her.
Though I liked quite a few of the characters, I wish they would have been more fleshed out. It seemed to me that the only character able to shine through the page was Jackson; which I guess is fitting, since the book title has his name in it and all. I didn't like that sometimes the story would jump around, almost like it ran off on a tangent and forgot to take the reader with it. This made it quite difficult to figure out what happened in the in-between time, which then made it hard to have a better connection to the story. I also didn't really like how Megan falls for Jackson all of a sudden. She was continuously annoyed by him and then, in the blink of an eye, she can't stand to be away from him. It just didn't seem realistic for her to fall so hard for him out of nowhere. I would have liked to read about how her feelings grew from annoyance to friendship to first love, you know?
Celia Bryce has written about cancer - and the children and families who suffer through it all - in such a brilliant and honest way, which shows some real talent and heart. It was really difficult, but interesting, to hear about all the trials and experiences these kids have to go through. I mean, there were babies on the ward. Babies. That's just so sad and not right. Celia has handled this subject with such grace and tenderness. She shows that though there is a lot of pain and sadness associated with cancer and those who have it, but there is hope and joy to be found as well.
I would definitely recommend this moving novel to readers of both young adult and middle-grade fiction. The content is clean, and the protagonist young enough (she's 13), that many readers will be able to enjoy it. Overall, I think Anthem for Jackson Dawes is a touching story that will stick with you long after you read it.
A favorite quote: “Megan watched as everything about her, everything that said who she was, slid down her shoulders and cascaded to the floor, like leaves shaken from a dying tree.”