July 03, 2018

My Deal with the Universe

Written by Deborah Kerbel
Scholastic Canada
240 pp.
Ages 8-12
June 2018

The uplifting cover of My Deal with the Universe hides the anxieties with which twelve-year-old Daisy is overwhelmed but thankfully it does tip us off to a resolution that is lightness and sparkle.

School is ending for the year and, though Daisy enjoys days with her best friend Willow playing at their Junglecamp, scheduled days of activities, too soon Willow would be off to summer camp for seven weeks. Sadly, there are no other friends, as Daisy, often called "Weed" lives in a house overgrown with vines and a yard dense with vegetation–called the Jungle–which is a source of ridicule and even contempt by schoolmates and neighbours. Mr. and Mrs. Pitt, next door, are especially horrid, always filing complaints against Daisy's parents and spraying Daisy with water "accidentally." Though the Jungle may be a source of embarrassment, Daisy loves her home, especially the quiet and darkness that comes with vine-covered walls and windows.

But Daisy's greatest concern is for her twin, Jack, who'd been diagnosed with cancer just before they turned eight. At the time, she'd made a deal with the universe: her life for Jack's. Coincidentally, as Jack went through treatment and started getting better, Daisy stopped growing. Apparently her deal worked. But now her parents are taking Jack, who is in remission, for doctors' appointments and tests, and Daisy comes up with a new plan to save him.

Then the Pitts' great niece and nephew, Violet and Zack, come to stay and befriend Daisy and Jack. This new friendship could change everything but would it help or hurt?

As in her most recent middle-grade novel Feathered (Kids Can Press, 2016), Deborah Kerbel makes us realize that young people, when faced with difficulties, find the means to mitigate those concerns through action. They may do so by unconventional means but making deals with the universe is probably less offbeat for children and those who are desperate than some medical treatments purported to benefit those who are ill. It would seem that Daisy is far more normal than she suspects: she's embarrassed by her parents but loves them; she's angry when she feels ignored by her friend; she doesn't want her twin to die; and she wants to be liked. But Deborah Kerbel makes it clear that normal is different for everyone and it can change with circumstances and these are lessons that Daisy ultimately learns. But she learns more than that. Daisy also accepts that some answers to life's problems can be a lot closer than anticipated and even a child can help make things right.
And how sometimes life's not all that different from a crossword puzzle.  How there's usually a solution lurking behind the blank spaces. You just have to keep trying different things to find that one that fits. (pg. 231)

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