Cures for Heartbreak

Cures for Heartbreak

4.0 11
by Margo Rabb

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"IF SHE DIES, I'll die," are the words 15-year-old Mia Perlman writes in her journal the night her mother is diagnosed with cancer. Nine days later, Mia's mother is dead, and Mia, her older sister, and her father must find a way to live on in the face of sudden, unfathomable loss. But even in grief, there is the chance for new beginnings in this poignant, funny, and… See more details below


"IF SHE DIES, I'll die," are the words 15-year-old Mia Perlman writes in her journal the night her mother is diagnosed with cancer. Nine days later, Mia's mother is dead, and Mia, her older sister, and her father must find a way to live on in the face of sudden, unfathomable loss. But even in grief, there is the chance for new beginnings in this poignant, funny, and hopeful novel.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Anyone who has grieved the loss of a loved one will feel an immediate connection to Mia, the narrator of this intimate novel. Mia is a freshman at the Bronx High School of Science when her mother dies 12 days after being diagnosed with cancer. During the next several months, life falls back into a routine, but everything that Mia experiences—meeting new people, watching her father fall in love again, and discovering the difference between infatuation and love—is accompanied by a sense of longing. Haunted by memories of her mother, Mia is feeling particularly vulnerable when tragedy strikes a second time, as her father suffers a heart attack. His subsequent bypass surgery goes well; nonetheless, Mia remains painfully aware of the consequences of mortality. Not until she befriends a cancer survivor does she begin to trust in life again. Despite its title, this novel does not offer a "cure" for Mia's heartbreak. Rather, it gives readers a keenly insightful study of grief. Rabb balances sorrow with humor, and sprinkles quotes by renowned writers on the subjects of love and loss as additional food for thought. The author, who like Mia lost her mother as a young adult, writes with authority and precision. Ages 14-up. (Feb.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Myrna Marler
This novel is based on the author's own experience when her mother died after a nine-day illness. The protagonist here is Mia, 15 years old and stunned by her mother's death. Mia's mother had gone into the hospital with a stomachache and emerged 12 days later in a coffin, a victim of cancer. Mia cannot quite take it in and doesn't know how to act. Equally stunned and equally confused are her father and older sister Alex, and the three are somewhat at odds about how they should carry on and absorb this shattering event into the context of their lives. Mia finds her grief both embarrassing and overwhelming. She doesn't know whether to date or stay home. She doesn't know how to behave around her friends at school. She doesn't know how to treat her father. She does know her mother and father's relationship was not perfect and that her mother was an imperfect woman, and yet no one can speak the truth of the past to each other. Eventually, Mia's father becomes engaged to a woman wildly different from her mother and Mia must cope with the reality of the new relationship. That she does so realistically and complexly is a testament to the author's experience in dealing with the same issue and the many unexpected feelings that come into play. The language and voice are compelling. Relevant and thoughtful quotations head every chapter. The characters are fully formed and when the last page turns, four new and fascinating people have been born into the reader's consciousness.
VOYA - Carlisle Kraft Webber
Mia Pearlman's mother enters the hospital complaining of a stomachache, and twelve days later, she dies of melanoma. Her death leads Mia on a journey of memories, disastrous dates, and ice cream, which is interrupted when her father suffers a heart attack. Alex, Mia's gifted, sometimes antagonistic sister, leaves for college four months later, leaving Mia and her father alone to embark on both physical and emotional recoveries. Although the Pearlmans are not devoutly religious, their Jewish traditions play a strong part in their reactions to events that unfold from medical traumas, both theirs and those of the people they meet in the hospital. Throughout the book, Mia has positive encounters that stem from sad events, including making a new, close friend and taking her first hike with a sensitive, intelligent cancer survivor. This book could easily have been overwhelming given the mother's death, Mia's recurring company of terminally ill people, and her failed romances. Instead Rabb produces a witty, matter-of-fact, and heartfelt look at what grief means to one teenager, and how the relationships and habits Mia acquires help her to accept change. The light, everyday comedy born of a series of disasters prevents the book from becoming maudlin. Peripheral characters are delightfully, even frighteningly, real in their details. The Pearlman family, although always just this side of dysfunctional, is loving and supportive in their own way. Teens looking for a tearjerker, a romance, or an unexpected comedy will find much to enjoy here.
Children's Literature - Norah Piehl
Just days after receiving a cancer diagnosis, fifteen-year-old Mia Pearlman's mother is dead. Mia and her mom were two of a kind, loving fashion and shopping more than Mia's dad and older sister ever could ("Bloomingdale's was a spiritual homeland."). Within months of Mia's mother's death, her father has a heart attack and bypass surgery, leaving Mia worried about becoming an orphan and dwelling on loss when other kids her age are just enjoying high school life: "People died every day, didn't they? Every minute. While we'd been sitting here hundreds of people had died. Hundreds of families were getting their hearts torn out. I couldn't fathom it. I wasn't sure how it was possible, really, all these people all over the world quietly grieving. You'd think that if everyone was going through this, you'd see them all on the street in a communal howl. There'd be grief riots . . . and grief spas. Grief mud masques. Grief nail polish." Mia's matter-of-fact commentaries, hovering between anger, hope, humor, and grief, manage to keep the novel light in spite of its subject matter. The narrative, however, can seem somewhat choppy and repetitive, making each chapter (most of which have been previously published separately elsewhere) feel more like a well-crafted short story than a contribution to a cohesive story arc. Overall, though, Rabb's highly autobiographical debut is a well written study of the effects of unimaginable loss on a bright, normal, likable teenager.
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up
Black humor, pitch-perfect detail, and compelling characters make this a terrific read, despite the pain that permeates every superbly written page. Ninth-grader Mia has just lost her mother to cancer, and now her father is hospitalized with heart trouble. The story follows her first through bleak days at the hospital, then as she copes with her grief for her mother, her father's new girlfriend, and her sometimes disastrous attempts to find love. Interwoven throughout the book are Mia's musings over her family's history and the continuing tragic impact of the Holocaust. The novel's vivid New York City setting is almost another character, with vibrant descriptions of subway rides, shopping trips, and local color. Mia's early experience with loss influences everything about her life, from her bond with her father and older sister to her troubles with school and relationships. As she struggles to make sense of her mother's death and her father's illness, she also sees humor in everyday situations, and her irreverent commentary brings the story to life. Mia's romance with Sasha, a young man whose leukemia is in remission, is especially moving. A touching afterword reveals just how closely the novel follows the author's actual experiences.
—Miranda DoyleCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
When her mother dies unexpectedly, a teen seeks and eventually finds cures for her broken heart. Twelve days after her cancer diagnosis, Mia Pearlman's mother dies, leaving Mia, her older sister Alex and their father bereft. During the funeral, 15-year-old Mia keeps thinking, "this could not be happening" and, in the following weeks, her life assumes a surreal quality. Mia starts dressing in her mother's clothing, burns a memorial candle in her bedroom, devours books about orphans and chronically sleeps late, missing classes. Then, just three months later, Mia's father suffers his second heart attack and undergoes bypass surgery while Mia and Alex face the possibility of life on their own. As the Pearlmans slog through their grief, Mia muses about her mother's first love, is amazed when her father suddenly becomes engaged to another hospital patient and wonders if she will ever fall in love. Told in the first person with humor and tears, Mia's voice is authentic, and her story of family tragedy and healing rings true. Touching and tender. (Fiction. YA)

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Random House Children's Books
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Read an Excerpt

The Host

The funeral director's name was Manny Musico.

"Is that like a stage name?" my sister, Alex, asked.

"No," he said proudly. "It's real." The gel in his black curls glistened; his teeth sparkled in the artificial light. He was good-looking in a soap opera way and seemed young for his profession.

I leaned over to my sister and whispered, "What a morbid job."

Manny also had supersonic hearing. "A lot of people think so, but it's not morbid at all!" His voice boomed like a Broadway star's; he adjusted his lapels and beamed. I wouldn't have been entirely shocked if spotlights had flicked on, coffins opened up, dancing corpses emerged, and Manny led us all in the opening number of Funeral!, the musical.

"Getting down to business," Manny said, "can I please have the death certificate?"

My father handed it to him and recounted the details about our mother–a sudden death, twelve days after the diagnosis; no, no one expected it; he was sorry too. Forms were filled out. Then Manny invited us to view the coffins.

"She went into the hospital with a stomachache," my dad continued as Manny led us downstairs and along a wood-paneled corridor to the coffin vault.

Manny said, "We've gotten some new models in."

The coffins: luxury models lined with silk, the plain pine box preferred by the Orthodox. My eyes bulged at the prices. A thousand dollars. Two thousand. Four thousand. The caskets had names–Abraham, Eleazar, Moses, Shalom.

"How about the Eleazar?" my father asked. The Eleazar cost $1,699.

"It looks okay," I said. This could not be happening. Oak finish. Satin-lined. "Are we going to get the Star of David on top?"

"I think it costs extra. But what the hell. I think Omi and Opa would want it." Omi and Opa were my mother's parents.

"We don't need the fucking star," my sister growled.

Manny decided to leave us alone with the coffins. "I'll give you some time to decide."

My father examined the finish of the Abraham and said for the fifth time in two days, "We're in a play in which the funeral is the last act," in his usual deadpan tone.

"That's new," Alex snapped. "Did you get that out of a book or something?"

"He can repeat it if he wants to," I said.

She glared at me. "Mia thinks we are in a play–rated triple X. Did you see her this morning?" she asked our father. "She was trying on a slutty dress to wear to the funeral."

"It wasn't a slutty dress." It was a velvet halter dress I'd recently worn to a sweet sixteen. I touched the shiny handle of the $4,000 mahogany Shalom. "It's my only black dress. It's not like I wanted to wear pasties and a G-string."

"I wouldn't be surprised if you did."

"Shut up."

"You shut up."

"You shut up."

"Girls," our father said. "Please. Girls. After this, we'll go shopping."

This was a shock, since he found shopping as enjoyable as setting himself on fire.

Manny poked his head in. "Everything okay?"

"Fine," my father said. "We'll take the Eleazar, with the Star of David." He answered more questions, signed some paperwork, and as we got ready to leave, he told Manny we were off to Bloomingdale's.

"Have fun," Manny called after us.

The Shopping Trip

My father pulled up to a hydrant a block from Bloomingdale's. "I'll wait here, save on parking," he said, and unfurled his beloved New York Times. He handed my sister his credit card like it was a rare gem.

To my mother and me, Bloomingdale's was a spiritual homeland. I worshipped those dresses on the mannequins in the windows, the bright pocketbooks swinging on silver racks, and the gleaming sky-high stilettos. Every time we shopped there, I'd inhale the heady perfumes and sweet chemical scent of brand-new clothes as my mother and I scanned the store for deities (she'd once sighted Marilyn Monroe at the Chanel counter, and I'd seen Molly Ringwald in Shoes on 2.) Then we'd ogle the merchandise.

We'd try not to buy too much (so my father wouldn't kill us), but we'd soon find ourselves happily cascading up the escalator with a big brown bag of on-sale skirts, barrettes, pantyhose, underwear, and of course Estee Lauder products that were accompanied by free gifts. My mother hoarded these free bonuses–lacquered boxes, makeup kits, tote bags, pocket mirrors.

My sister had never been part of our shopping trips. Now I watched her galumph down the aisles in her hiking boots, jeans, and Mets jersey, digging through the racks and making faces at the clothes. Her hair frizzed around her head like a dandelion.

"I'll be in Dresses," I said. I walked over to that section and there I saw it on the sale rack. Cap-sleeved chiffon with an embroidered overlay; I'd tried on this dress two months before with my mother. We hadn't bought it–it was $149–but I'd fallen for this dress. We'd oohed and aahed. We'd held our breath, fingering the embroidery.

I stared at the price tag: $119 on sale. Not much of an improvement.

I eyed the skinny girls with pink backpacks browsing the racks and thought, My mother would want me to have this dress. Maybe she'd left the dress here, in fact, for me to wear. Maybe it was a sign.

I walked over to my sister, who was holding black pants and a matching shirt. "Guess I'll get this," she sighed, as if buying them would cause her physical pain. She stared at the dress draped over my arm. "Is that a scarf?"

"It's a dress."

"It's see-through."

"It's not."

"It's snot?"

I rolled my eyes.

"How much?" she asked.

I shrugged. "Not much."

She lifted the price tag. "One hundred and nineteen? What is that, drachmas? Shekels?"

"I'm getting it," I said.

Her voice rose. "You're not paying a hundred and nineteen dollars for a scarf!"

The customers on line gaped at us. "It's for Mommy's funeral," I said. "I think a nice dress is worth it for Mommy's funeral." As soon as the words were out I wished I hadn't said them. My entire life had become a CBS Sunday Night Movie, and it was only getting worse.

Her eyes flashed. "There's no way we're buying that dress!"

I threw it on the counter. "Fine. Forget it." My throat dried up. I marched off to the escalator.

I rode it down to Hosiery and wandered around the pantyhose. I could run away. Where would I go? Upstate? The wilderness? I imagined riding Metro-North and getting off at the last stop, wherever that was, and starting a new life. Ten minutes later I headed out the main door in the vague direction of Grand Central Station.

Alex was waiting on the sidewalk. I ignored her and hurried up the street.

"Here's your stupid dress," she said from behind me, waving the shopping bag at me. I walked away from her; she caught up. I walked faster; she did too. I started running, and she chased after me; I arrived at the car out of breath, ahead of her.

"I got here first," I said inanely, as if I needed to prove I'd won the pre-funeral foot race, an ancient ceremonial Jewish tradition.

Is God a Comedian from the Borscht Belt?

My mother had told us the diagnosis herself, the first night she was in the hospital. We were all there, my father, Alex, and me, at the foot of my mother's bed, sitting there awkwardly, trying to pretend this was a natural, normal family situation, the four of us hanging around her hospital bed.

"Well." She smiled. "Melanoma."

She shrugged. And smiled again, as if it was amusing, as if she really wanted to say, Ha! Isn't this funny? Cancer. I thought I had a stomachache.

We all sort of smiled then, the four of us with these sick, manic, dumb, painfully goofy smiles, because we didn't know what else to do. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting gone awry–Gee, Mom's got Cancer!–and our frozen, psychotic grins.

Then the four of us went to the solarium, and Alex and I talked about school, grades, Alex's senior-year research paper on isotopes, my new nail polish. A normal conversation, things would be normal. The cancer had metastasized to my mother's liver. "You never know what can happen," a nurse told us later. "Remain hopeful."

I didn't know it that night, but that was the last normal conversation I'd have with my mother. Perhaps this was why I replayed the diagnosis scene so often in my head in the days leading up to the funeral, trying to understand it, to revise it, to make myself say something important, anything.

I'd waited to cry until I'd gotten in bed that night. I cried till I ran out of tears, and then I lay there and could feel my insides churning. I hadn't known that it would be such a tangible, physical pain, yet so much worse than anything that was only physical. My insides churned and churned as if machines were methodically grinding my inner organs to a pulp. I used to think the worst pain I'd ever felt was one summer when I'd slipped on wet leaves in the alley behind our house and broke my arm. Now I wanted to laugh at my own stupidity. I'd thought that had hurt?

From the Hardcover edition.

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