I've been on the hunt for middle grade books that incorporate music in meaningful ways for a while now, and this one does not disappoint.
It's also a story of a boy going blind in one eye from cancer treatments. My father was blinded in his left eye from an accident at the age of 6, in the 1940s before many of the wonderful medical technology advances mentioned in this book existed, so this touched a real chord with me. In the 1940s, just saving the eyeball was a miracle. My father never had school photos taken because the pupil was mis-shapen and the eyes were different colors. He was behind in school a year due to a 6-month recovery, during which the aim was also to save the eyeball from infection and keep the optical nerve intact. I totally empathized with the main character's relief at being able to save the eye ball and socket and not have to live "disfigured" by surgery to remove the tumor, even if he did face blindness in one eye.
Ross Malloy's already lost his mom to breast cancer. Now, he's trying to survive middle school, which is hard enough, but it's even harder when you're diagnosed with a rare cancer and learn you may have to have both eyes removed, balls and sockets, and live disfigured for the rest of your life.
Thank heavens best friend Abby is sticking by him, even if other best friend Isaac has flaked out and won't talk to him anymore. Then a second opinion from Dr. Throckton raises Ross' hopes -- he may not have to lose both his eyes, or all his eyesight, maybe just the one, if they do special proton radiology and target just the tumor.
Of course, nothing's ever that easy. The radiation treatments (he needs 30+) leave his skin dry and cracking, and he has to use goo to keep it moist. He also has to use eye goo to lubricate the eye after they remove the lacrimal gland, which produces tears. He has to wear a huge hat, even indoors, and loses his hair in clumps. Many days, he feels like nothing more than a gooey, goopy mess.
Then someone at school posts a series of memes on social media, featuring him. The worst: death waiting at the airport with a sign that reads, "Ross." Who would do this? Who would be this crass and unfeeling and such a total jerk?
Ross thinks he knows who -- Jimmy, a gigantor of a kid who chews enormous amounts of gum and spits in a container at school. Ew, gross! The boys get into a fight over the memes, but establish Jimmy didn't make them.
Meanwhile, Ross' radiology technician introduces him to music -- not Dad music, a.k.a. soft-rock Top 40 garbage -- and soon Ross is taking guitar lessons with the tech, who also has a band. Featuring Jimmy's cousin. Jimmy plays the drums, and he's not bad at it either.
The older, more experienced rockers play matchmakers and get the boys together. There's a talent show coming up, organized by the girl Ross has had a crush on since for-ev-er. Wouldn't it be great if Abby could take her viola skills and apply them to bass guitar? And they could croon and rock their way to stardom?
I won't spoil how it ends. But be prepared to read through your tears, it was that good.