How to nurture a friendship
Every time I bury my nose in a book, it is as if I’m inviting someone to ask me the 5W1H questions: Where did I find the book? Why did I pick up the book? When did I pick up the book?
Honestly, can’t a girl just pick up a book without explaining herself to the entire human race?
And so, with this I-just-want-to-be-left-alone expression clearly plastered on my face, I usually find myself answering those questions in a maximum of five words per sentence. Yes, without even bothering to look up at the person asking the questions.
But this book deserves more than that. It deserves a page-long explanation about why I picked it up, but more importantly, why everyone should read it.
Reason one: This book has characters you can relate to, right down to their names. I know you know an Olivia. Or you know someone who knows someone who is an Olivia. Come on, one of my best friends is named Olivia!
Not good enough? OK. There’s also a Zoe, a Jake, a Calvin and a Stacy. Names make you relate to someone you know, however different the person may be from the character. And these names are common names, unlike some authors who choose to use exotic, alien-like, I-cannot-even-pronounce-them names.
Coming back to the point, the characters are not only relatable, they are well-developed.
First of all, there’s Zoe, the teenager who got cut from the New York City Ballet along with her best friend, Olivia, aka Livvie. Their worlds revolve around dance and each other, and being cut dealt them a big blow. But they deal.
Livvie, the nicer, more mature one, takes it in stride and even continues to teach dance classes, while Zoe tries putting the past behind her.
From the beginning, it is clear that Livvie is Zoe’s pillar – supportive, maternal and warm. Zoe is a sarcastic brat who, personally, got on my nerves a few times by being rude to everyone around her – and worst of all, it is all done in the name of “My best friend has cancer”.
Then there are the parents. Zoe’s parents are extremely understanding, patient and compassionate; at the same time, they know where to draw the line when their daughter starts lashing out at everyone because she’s upset about Olivia’s illness. I particularly appreciate this one chastising line Zoe’s mother says: “Olivia’s illness is a tragedy, Zoe, don’t make it into a petty excuse.” You go, mum!
Reason two: Cancer. I remember when I came across this comic strip that said, “If you have a headache and Googled the symptoms, you’ll find out you have cancer”.
As light-hearted as the statement may seem, most of us know first-hand what it is like to hear when someone you love, or know, is diagnosed with the dreaded Big C.
You will share Olivia’s journey and frustrations as a cancer patient – the hospital visits, painful chemotherapy sessions, the time when she realises chunks of hair are falling out and the sickening horror when she has to come to terms with what might be a relapse.
You will also share the roller coaster of Zoe’s ups and downs. Yes, she is by turns selfish, grumpy and harsh to everyone around her, yet I couldn’t help but admire her selflessness when it came to Livvie.
She takes over teaching Livvie’s dance classes even though it becomes a burning reminder of how she’d be cut from the New York City Ballet. She tries to be nice to Livvie’s cheerleader friends, who are, frankly, annoying to the bone. And she organises a smashing birthday celebration for Livvie. If all this doesn’t scream true friendship to you, I don’t know what would ... which leads me to my next reason.
Reason three: Friendship it’s a curious thing. It is something that can erode with time, and when you try to start a casual conversation with people you were once close to a few years back, you end up talking about the weather. Or food, if you’re Malaysian. In short, it is a living thing that requires cultivation and nourishment or, inevitably, it will wither and die.
But with Zoe and Olivia, you see a friendship that can and will withstand the test of time.
To anyone who has a best friend, a loved one who has or had cancer, or even a pet dog who doesn’t mind you bawling into its fur because you’re upset, read this book. Believe me, there will be lessons learned, whether you realise it or not.