In my time as a child book nerd, I somehow avoided reading anything by Lurlene McDaniel. I saw the covers at the library, always with some tragic looking girl or sad boy lying in a hospital bed. Then I’d walk right past them and go on to The Baby-Sitters Club or Phyllis Reynolds Naylor or whatever adult book I was sneaking home to read the dirty parts. I didn’t need to read Lurlene McDaniel because I already knew how those stories would turn out: sad. And I don’t like being sad. I still don’t. I love Bon Iver as much as the next 26 year old girl with a record player, but I recently had to invoke a “No Bon Iver” rule because I was getting too depressed (I listen to a lot of Katy Perry now. It’s hard to be bummed when you’re listening to someone who has a whipped cream gun bra).
At least when I read Baby-Sitters Club books I knew things would turn out well. Sure, maybe Cokie Mason would start some drama or someone would think their house was haunted, but by the end of the book things would be pretty much fine. But I could already tell from Lurlene McDaniel’s titles and covers that she was making no guarantees about the lifespan of her characters.
Even though I missed out on her as a kid, it seemed like I kind of had to read Lurlene McDaniel now. You know, for research. When I mentioned to my mom that I was reading a Lurlene McDaniel book, she asked me if all of her characters have terminal illnesses.
“No,” I told her. “Some of them die in car accidents.” Also, this is going to be the name of the Lurlene McDaniel biography I one day write. Some of Them Die in Car Accidents: The Lurlene McDaniel Story. Don’t steal that idea.
Anyway, I wanted to figure out why our gal Lurlene wrote so many books about teenagers dying. I mean, I understand writing one book about that. Or a few. But all of them? According to Wikipedia, she started writing books as a therapeutic way to deal with her young son’s diabetes diagnosis. And apparently when you’re Lurlene McDaniel you can’t stop, won’t stop when it comes to books about people dying.
For my first venture into the world of Lurlene, I chose Don’t Die, My Love because WHAT A TITLE. Julie and Luke are childhood sweethearts. Luke’s the star of the football team, and Julie’s the star of talking about how Luke is such a great football player. But when Luke’s diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, everything changes. Now, instead of going to dances, Julie’s spending her time at the Ronald McDonald House while Luke gets treatments. Meanwhile, Julie’s mom is all, “Hey, Julie, maybe you should spend some time looking at colleges,” and Julie’s like, “Whatever, Mom, I have NO DOWNTIME while I’m sitting in the hospital waiting room so I couldn’t possibly!”
Luke gets better for awhile, and Julie and Luke take a month long trip to California to visit Luke’s cinematographer uncle (you know, the old “cinematographer uncle who lives in California.” We’ve all got one). He gives her a promise ring, and Julie talks about how she wants to marry Luke soon but she also wants one of those “careers” her mom is always going on about. But then Luke gets sick again.
The main question you’re probably asking is, “Does Luke die?” I’m just going to rip this band-aid off right now and tell you. Yes. He does. Luke dies. This isn’t really a spoiler because a)this book was published in 1995 so we’ve all had 17 years to read it and b)the title doesn’t really leave a lot of hope.
Here’s the thing about this book. When I started reading it, I thought it would just be a fun book to read and a fun column to write. I certainly didn’t think I would get emotional. Because I’m an adult now, and if there’s one thing adults don’t do, it’s eat a piece of pie for breakfast. And if there’s another thing adults don’t do, it’s get weepy over a Lurlene McDaniel book. But you know what, you guys? I did both of those things this week. Because as it turns out, reading Don’t Die, My Love wasn’t the laugh-a-minute thrill I thought it would be. There’s this scene at the end with some tulips and a football field and I found myself getting a little teary-eyed and thinking, “That Luke Muldenhower sure was a great guy, wasn’t he?”
You got me, Lurlene McDaniel. You win this time.
-Can we talk about the cover for a moment? Luke just looks less-than-enthused. And not even about the whole being sick thing, but about Julie hugging him.
-Some of Our Lady Lurlene’s other titles include: I Want to Live, So Much to Live For, Sixteen and Dying, Let Him Live, Please Don’t Die, She Died Too Young, A Time to Die, To Live Again, Six Months to Live and, my favorite, Someone Dies, Someone Lives (um, spoiler alert?). Do you think Lurlene McDaniel has a very small magnetic poetry set that she rearranges whenever she needs a new title? I hope so.
-As I was researching Lurlene McDaniel (normal thing to do), I came across the FAQ section on her website. Someone asked if she’ll ever write any books with happier endings, and this is what she wrote: “I know sad stories aren’t for every reader, but it’s the kind of story that most of my readers like from me. When I write “happy” books, many readers complain. So I focus on what I do best—stories that might bring a tear, but that focus on real life (where happily ever after rarely occurs). And while the books may not have “happy” endings, I try to give readers a satisfying ending—life is full of trouble and matters out of our control. How we deal with troubles determines our own character.”
I kind of love that. She knows what works for her. Do you, Lurlene.
What about you? Have you read a lot of Lurlene McDaniel? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books you’d like to see in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.
Image via FantasticFiction.co.uk