Campbell “Cam” Cooper is seventeen, lives in Florida and is from a family of Polynesian dance show “Spirit of Aloha” performers at Disney. When she isn’t dancing alone in front of the mirror, she is doing morning work shifts at one of Disney’s restaurant kitchens. She has also recently received a letter of acceptance from Harvard. And oh, she has cancer.
When she isn’t visiting doctors, she spends time in feeding her canary and crossing off things to do (before you die) from a “Flamingo List” (like erm.. shoplifting) , a list penned by her best friend and another cancer fighter, Lily. After being in and out of trials, treatments and hospital visits for years, she is finally told that science just isn’t going to cut it anymore, miracle is what she needs.
What follows is a road-trip with her mother and kid sister, journey to a hard-to-find quaint little town called Promise in Maine, which is said to have healing powers. Where queer things happen; like sunrise and sunset in the exact same spot, dandelions growing purple, and flamingos flocking near winter. Where she meets Asher .. and her heart skips a beat *winks*.
Is it also where Cam gets another shot at life? Just what are the probabilities of miracles happening here?
Cam is a rockstar! Though she wouldn’t like to admit it, she is such a goofball even when she is perpetually moping around. I loved the entire family unit – her mom Alicia, sister Perry and her Nana. None of them ever give up on her till the end, and keep trying to advocate “in favour of” Promise being a miracle town. So when Cam tries to orchestrate miracles of her own to keep up their belief, they feel affronted and hurt.
It was such a sad irony that a Disney dweller seeks for a fairy tale ending in another place, away from the make-believe settings that Cam keeps jesting about. But I loved how the story comes to a full circle.. when she is homesick and looks back with fond memories of the place she came from.. Maybe that is the miracle that worked for Cam.. to realize that the probability of a miracle doesn’t increase or depend on a place… nor can be forced or conjured.
It is about believing.. of finding happiness .. in your first love, or a first part time job, the one best friend who has stood by you, breaking curfews under your mum’s nose, sharing egg creams with your sister, or rescuing a newly hatched flamingo! Just recognizing that the cancer doesn’t have to define the entire “You”.
I felt the story meandered a bit though (the kind of meandering that would probably translate better into a screenplay), and the “Flamingo List” plot device was kind of a weak spot … or maybe just wasn’t used too well. She sort of unintentionally ends up crossing off most of the things in the list every time, so it isn’t like the list acts as some source of motivation to achieve something. More than anything else, the author used it just to bring up Cam and Lily’s zany friendship in the book occasionally. Or maybe I just didn’t get it.
For those who have read The Fault In Our Stars:
Well, one big similarity is that both have a female teen protagonist (Cam and Hazel) diagnosed with cancer. However, unlike TFOIS, where the love story plays out as a major part of the book and also in Hazel’s personal journey, the Cam-Asher story didn’t make much of an impact in my mind. This is perfectly fine with me, as the book had an array of other characters that enriched Cam’s life. I liked that the author focussed on Cam and we meet and get to know everyone else through her (including Asher) and not letting the teen romance overwhelm the later part of the book.