Thursday 13 August 2015

The Boy in the Mirror by Tom Preston

Title: The Boy in the Mirror
Author: Tom Preston
Publisher: Inpress Books
Read Type: eARC

You can order a pre-release a copy of this book from Amazon (International)
The book will be released on September 17 2015

Book Blurb:
In January 2011, aged 21, Tom Preston was diagnosed with stage 4 advanced aggressive lymphoma. His chances of survival were optimistically placed at around 40%. This short, autobiographical work tells the story of the fight in the months that followed – but this is no ordinary cancer memoir.

The Boy in the Mirror is written in the second person – so the events in this book are happening to you, the reader, living through the hope, love, suffering, death and black comedy encountered by Tom during the battle to save himself.

Strong language: None
Drugs: Medicinal use
Violence: None (some graphic medical scenes, emotional rather than visual)
Sexual content: None

I received a copy of this novella via NetGalley and Inpress Books in return for an unbiased review.

Please note, any quotes from this book are from a pre-release version and subject to change.

To review this book from the heart is simple. Yet, to open my reviewer’s toolbox (consisting of characterisation, description, secondary character three dimensionality, point of view, emotion etc.) this becomes very difficult. The novel is written in second person, a rarely used perspective, with terms such as “you do this, you feel that, you want this” as if the reader is in the driving seat.

Who the character is is very open to interpretation. Through the entire book I think I learned little more than  the character is a young man, who was in university the year before, with parents, a sister and grandparents. While the treatment is well dealt with in detail, these were kept fairly gender neutral. This allowed me, despite being a woman with a slightly different family setup, to really become the character while I was reading. By large I had to discard my writer’s toolbox, because I realised that this wasn’t relevant to a second person book. Had aspects such as characterisation and description being present I would have had a harder time making the character into ‘me’.

I have spent a lot of time under the care of the NHS in the last decade, whether in hospital, as an outpatient or with them in my home. For people who aren’t familiar with the U.K.’s service, in recent years you can expect to wait a long time, even multiple years for a simple operation. If you are called in quickly for treatment you know it is serious.

They give you a queue-jump. A little red ticket.
‘What service!’ your dad says, half- joking.
You manage a weak smile; the faster they see you, the worse your chances are. Results will take up to three weeks.
They call you at home three hours later.

The plot is kept relatively simple, when the young man sees the doctor at the beginning of the story he is told his course of treatment, which is then followed fairly accurately throughout the book. This allows the book to work on emotions and feelings, to cover the more minor events that happen within the life of a hospital. It also allowed me to forget more about in-depth plotting and scheming of many books. It allowed me to put myself in the character’s shoes. This was all about the feelings from fear to relief, from anger to acceptance, from agony to release. Phrases such as:
Breathe normally.
Breathe normally.
Breathe in and hold your breath.
Breathe normally.

When used within the story, with only one sentence between them, drew me in and had me concentrating on my breathing as  if I was there.

I think the story will resonate strongly with everybody, but I felt it particularly hard because I have spent long spells in hospital away from family, the same as this character. My treatment was far different to this, thankfully, but the minor details, such as the awkward greetings with other patients, waiting for your next dose of painkillers when you can’t concentrate on anything, as well as many other little moments, especially those minor losses of dignity when you can no longer do personal things for yourself.

The story really throws you into the emotions, taking the time to go through one scene of treatment, at times almost second by second. The strain, fear and uncertainty can become yours for a moment if you open yourself up. Yet, despite this it is not an overly depressing book. There are the times of strange reminiscences you have, unusual things you notice and just the day-to-day fascination of life in a hospital and how it changes your perspective on everything.

I felt visitors, whether family or friends, were dealt with especially well. There was just the right mix of awkwardness false  brightness amongst the inane chatter over generic subjects.
The mood is all stubborn optimism and good humour. Your friends seem brittle but brave all at once.

As the book ramps towards the end it becomes a real heart in your mouth experience. Will the character live or die? What is real and what is hallucinations from medication and illness? The more you put yourself into the book the more you get out of it.

It is a book to take your time with, sit somewhere quietly away from others and imagine yourself there. I would highly recommend finding the time to be alone, and spend some time that way after every reading session. You’ll get a lot more out of it.

I didn’t realise until after I finished this work that is was true life, for me this lent extra poignancy to what I had experienced.

The 411
Regardless of whether I reviewed this book from the heart or as a reviewer, the rating and my opinion wouldn’t change. It is beautifully written, draws you in and really makes you a part of the world. Even in the darkness, there were moments of light, making it thoroughly enjoyable.

It is a truly eye-opening look into the world of a cancer patient, but also into the inner workings of the mind and how simple things can change our perspective.

No matter how I look at this it is a very easy 5 stars.

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