Price: 195 INR
Published by: Scholastic India (via Mariam Lloyd Books)
I remember buying ‘Ways to Live Forever’ by Sally Nicholls in the eighth grade, due to its particularly purple cover. Enticing to a certain degree, the book cover has the title splayed across it in a wishful manner, almost cartoonish. A boy reaching out to the moon by climbing up a huge tree in the calm of midnight is what attracted me to the novel in the first place. I sensed there were adventures to be had here, but boy I was both right and wrong. They weren’t the escapades of a boy who solves mysteries and has umpteen number of adventures with his friends. At the same time, there were adventures within- even though they were of an emotional kind. Intended as a kid’s book for kids, Sally Nicholls deserves the award for Waterstone’s Children’s Book that she got in 2008 for this debut novel. Remember, she wrote this when she was twenty-three.
This is my book, started 7th January finished 12th April. It is a collection of lists, stories, pictures, questions and facts.
It is also my story.
List no. 1: Five facts about me.
1. My name is Sam.
2. I am eleven years old.
3. I collect stories and fantastic facts.
4. I have Leukaemia.
5. By the time you read this, I will probably be dead.
Sam loves facts. He wants to know about UFOs and horror movies and scientists and airships and ghosts, and how it feels to kiss a girl. And because he has Leukaemia, he wants to know the facts about dying. Sam needs answers to the questions nobody will answer.
Helping him along the way are four main characters- Felix his best friend, his mother, father and the irritating sister. Home-schooled by a Mrs. Willis who is filled with wittiness and the occasional sparkling wise-eye, Sam meets Felix. In a chapter titled ‘The French Spy or the story of how I met Felix’, readers are entertained to a coup of duties happening in a hospital when the two dodge out of the facility, run out on streets and beg passers-by for cigarettes. It was a game. The nurses were the enemy. We were the resistance army. The chemistry formed between the two is a delight to read in the following chapters, especially when they both argue in a chapter titled ‘Why does God make kids get ill?’
The book, like almost all children’s books, is written in first person- making it easy to relate to scrawny Sam. He is no different than you or me, but there is something about the fact that he knows he is going to die and decides to make the most of what a teenager can at his age. He talks about the things he wants to do (in his third list). Going up down-escalators and down up-escalators, seeing a ghost or riding in an airship is not something we as teenagers would aim for. But Sam’s maturity shows beyond his age as he realizes he needs to tick off stuff from his bucket list as soon as he can. Time, after all, is precious. For some things are perfect from start to finish, and while Sam’s journey had its ups and downs, at the end of it all, the satisfaction is long overdue. With more innocent lists like Why do people have to die anyway, Things I want to happen after I’m dead and What to do when someone dies, Sam manages to win over the reader, gaining support as pages turn. One obviously does not want anything to happen to the little soul towards the end, but ‘His will shall be done’ and so we come to the rather dismal ending. Even then, the ride has been memorable, given Sam’s occasional sprinkles of humor, such as: Find a girl called Eva and marry her. Then, even if you can’t live forever, at least you can live for Eva.
“You are allowed to be sad, but you aren’t allowed to be too sad. If you’re always sad when you think about me, then how can you remember me?”
Sam’s last words in his scrapbook strike you hard. They enter the tendrils of your thoughts days after you are done with the novel and force you to pause yourself, take a look around and consider yourself lucky to have had Sam’s character roam around in your mind, if only for a little while. For that is the magic of Nicholl’s writing.
Rating: 8/ 10
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