Death Be Not Proud: A Memoir

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Overview

Johnny Gunther was only seventeen years old when he died of a brain tumor. During the months of his illness, everyone near him was unforgettably impressed by his level-headed courage, his wit and quiet friendliness, and, above all, his unfaltering patience through times of despair. This deeply moving book is a father's memoir of a brave, intelligent, and spirited boy.
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Overview

Johnny Gunther was only seventeen years old when he died of a brain tumor. During the months of his illness, everyone near him was unforgettably impressed by his level-headed courage, his wit and quiet friendliness, and, above all, his unfaltering patience through times of despair. This deeply moving book is a father's memoir of a brave, intelligent, and spirited boy.
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Editorial Reviews

Walter Duranty
To read it is to grasp the meaning of a man's power to defy Death's hurt, to be filled with confidence and emptied of despair. It will bring spirit to the weary, new confidence and light to those who walk in shadow.
The New York Herald Tribune
New York Times Book Review
If courage is the antidote to pain and griefthe disease and the cure are both in this book...A story of great unselfishness and great heroism.
New York Times
If courage is the antidote to pain and grief, the disease and the cure are both in this book...A story of great unselfishness and great heroism.
New York Herald Times
To read it is to grasp the meaning of a man's power to defy Death's hurt, to be filled with confidence and emptied of despair. It will bring spirit to the weary, new confidence and light to those who walk in shadow.
New Yorker
A heartbreaking tale, beautifully written.
New York Herald Times
To read it is to grasp the meaning of a man's power to defy Death's hurt, to be filled with confidence and emptied of despair. It will bring spirit to the weary, new confidence and light to those who walk in shadow.
The New York Times
If courage is the antidote to pain and grief, the disease and the cure are both in this book...A story of great unselfishness and great heroism.
The New Yorker
A heartbreaking tale, beautifully written.
New York Herald Times
To read it is to grasp the meaning of a man's power to defy Death's hurt, to be filled with confidence and emptied of despair. It will bring spirit to the weary, new confidence and light to those who walk in shadow.
Walter Duranty
To read it is to grasp the meaning of a man's power to defy Death's hurt, to be filled with confidence and emptied of despair. It will bring spirit to the weary, new confidence and light to those who walk in shadow.
The New York Herald Tribune
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780606005470
  • Publisher: San Val, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/1/1949
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 205

Meet the Author

John Gunther (1901-1970) was one of the best known and most admired journalists of his day. The author of the immensely popular Inside books—a series of profiles of major world powers, beginning with Inside Europe, published in 1936—he was born on the north side of Chicago and died on May 29, 1970.

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Read an Excerpt

Death Be Not Proud


By John Gunther

Sagebrush Education Resources

Copyright © 1999 John Gunther
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780881036015

Chapter One

Johnny came home for the Christmas holiday in 1945, and he looked fit and fine. He was lengthening out physically and otherwise, as children do all of a sudden, responding as it were to the release of some hidden inner spring. We saw a lot of each other, and just before getting on the train to return to school in January, he exclaimed, "Pop, that was the best ten days I ever had!" He didn't often confess personal emotions so freely, and I was pleased. Then in March, 1946, he came down again for the long spring holiday. Frances and I took him to several Broadway shows, including Show Boat and Antigone—he liked Antigone best; he went to lectures on atomic physics; Frances took him to the public dinner given by the City of New York to Winston Churchill—it was the first, and last, time he ever wore a dinner jacket, borrowed from his uncle; he won the critical game in a chess match against another school (he was captain now of the Deerfield chess team); he monkeyed with his chemicals and read the manuscript of the early chapters of Inside U.S.A. which was just then getting under way. I thought he seemed tired, but I did not take this seriously, believing it to be the normal reaction from a regime as vigorous as that of Deerfield, together with the strains ofadolescence. He had his usual check with Traeger, our family physician, who pronounced him perfectly all right. Also he had a check with an eye doctor. This was important. Johnny had suffered some eye strain the summer before and was taking exercises to strengthen his visual acuity. The eye doctor found nothing wrong; in fact, the eyes had improved to a considerable degree. The day after the examination by Traeger, Johnny complained suddenly of a slight stiff neck. If this had happened before Traeger saw him, I would have been more concerned, but since he had just been given a clean bill of health, we did not take anything so minor as a stiff neck seriously. Indeed, it disappeared after a day, and Johnny went back to school, sighing a little that the holiday was over but happy and full of energy and anticipation.

Deerfield had an infantile paralysis case that spring, and, as is the custom of the school with its strict standards, all parents were notified at once. Then in the third week of April I had a wire from the school doctor, Johnson, saying that Johnny was in the infirmary but, though he had a stiff neck, there was no indication of polio and we were not to worry. Nothing at all alarming was indicated. Boys get stiff necks and Charley horses all the time. In fact, Dr. Johnson said, he was informing us of Johnny's complaint only because, knowing of the polio scare and hearing that he was in the infirmary, we might think that he did have polio, which he didn't. I called Johnny up, and we talked briefly. He was lonely and fretful at missing a week of class work, but otherwise nothing seemed to be amiss. He was going into the nearby town the next day to have a basal metabolism test, and Dr. Johnson asked me to find out from Traeger when he had last had a basal, and what it was. I reported all this to Frances, and thought little more of it. Later we found that Johnny might not have gone to the infirmary at all, since he would never admit it when he was ill and never complained, except that one of his classmates, observing his stiff neck, insisted on his seeing the doctor. Then, wisely, Dr. Johnson held him for observation. Had this not happened, he might have died then and there.

At about three in the afternoon on Thursday, April 25, the telephone rang in our New York apartment. Just at that moment I had finished the California chapters of my book, and I had intended calling Johnny that night to tell him.

Without hesitation or warning Dr. Johnson said, "We've had a doctor in from Springfield to see your son—Dr. Hahn, a neurologist. Here he is."

Dr. Hahn said, "I think your child has a brain tumor."

I was too stunned to make sense. "But that's very serious, isn't it?" I exclaimed.

Dr. Hahn said, "I should say it is serious!" He went on, in a voice so emphatic that it was almost strident, "His disks are completely choked."

"His what?"

"Ask any doctor in the world what that means—choked disks!" he shouted.

He proceeded to describe other symptoms, and implored me with the utmost urgency to get in touch at once with Dr. Tracy Putnam, the best man for this kind of thing anywhere within range; in fact, even before talking to me, he and Johnson on their own responsibility had put in a call for Putnam. The next half hour passed in a grinding crisscross of calls. I talked to Traeger, I called Deerfield back, I got in touch with Frances who was out in Madison, I reached Putnam, I consulted Traeger once more, and by half-past four I was at 168th Street, waiting in Putnam's office. We picked Frances up in New Haven and, driving hard through greasy rain on an ugly, gritty night, with the windshield smeared all the time by fog and thick penetrating mist, reached Deerfield at about ten. Putnam said little as we drove, with our hearts dropping out of us. Five minutes after I got there I knew Johnny was going to die.

I cannot explain this except by saying that I saw it on the faces of the three doctors, particularly Hahn's. I never met this good doctor again, but I will never forget the way he kept his face averted while he talked, then another glimpse of his blank averted face as he said goodbye, dark with all that he was sparing us, all that he knew would happen to Johnny, and that I didn't know and Frances didn't know and that neither of us should know for as long as possible.





Continues...

Excerpted from Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther Copyright © 1999 by John Gunther. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
Death Be Not Proud chronicles Johnny Gunther's gallant struggle against the malignant brain tumor that killed him at the age of seventeen. The book opens with his father's fond, vivid portrait of his son - a young man of extraordinary intellectual promise, who excelled at physics, math, and chess, but was also an active, good-hearted, and fun-loving kid. But the heart of the book is a description of the agonized months during which Gunther and his former wife Frances try everything in their power to halt the spread of Johnny's cancer and to make him as happy and comfortable as possible. In the last months of his life, Johnny strove hard to complete his high school studies. The scene of his graduation ceremony from Deerfield Academy is one of the most powerful - and heartbreaking - in the entire book. Johnny maintained his courage, wit and quiet friendliness up to the end of his life. He died on June 30, 1947, less than a month after graduating from Deerfield.

Gunther concludes the memoir with selections from Johnny's letters and diary and with a short essay by Johnny's mother in which she probes the meaning of her son's death as "part of some great plan beyond our mortal ken." This deeply moving book is a father's memoir of a brave, intelligent, and spirited boy in his fight to overcome a dreadful disease that doctors had then only begun to understand.

Discussion Topics
1. This book is a memoir, a true story of a boy's illness and death, but it is also a carefully crafted narrative. Discuss the techniques and strategies that Gunther used to create characters, to make Johnny come alive for us as readers, to involve us so deeplyin the story. Why is this book so compulsively readable?

2. Many of us read this book in high school or junior high, and then returned to it as adults. Talk about the experience of reading the book at different times and different circumstances of your life - as a young person, as a parent, as a person who has experienced tragic loss.

3. At one point Gunther asks, "what is a mind for except to reason with?" What insight does this shed on his approach to Johnny's illness? What limitations does this approach impose on him as a man, a father, a participant in this tragedy?

4. Gunther grapples in an agonized way with the meaning and purpose of Johnny's life and untimely death. Do you find his thoughts here satisfying? Do you think he has plunged into the heart of the issues here or do you feel he has somehow skirted the issue?

5. The mysteries of cancer are at the heart of the book. Discuss the ways in which Gunther tries to fathom and come to terms with this disease. How has our understanding and treatment of cancer changed in the decades since Death Be Not Proud was written?

6. Gunther writes in a particularly searching, emotionally charged passage of the book: "A primitive to-the-death struggle of reason against violence, reason against disruption, reason against brute unthinking force -- this was what went on in Johnny's head. What he was fighting against was the ruthless assault of chaos. What he was fighting for was, as it were, the life of the human mind." Talk about your reactions to this quote. Do you agree with this view of Johnny's disease? Does this in your opinion capture the essential meaning of the story?

7. Johnny's death is the central event of the book, and yet when death comes it is very quiet and almost anti-climatic. Why did Gunther choose to present the death scene in this way? What impact does it have on your experience of the book?

8. The book concludes with Johnny's letters and journals and then a brief word from his mother. How did the journal and letters alter your views of Johnny's character and situation? Would the book have a different "feel" and different message if Gunther had simply ended with his own description of the events?

9. Memoirs were certainly part of the literary scene when this book was published in 1949, but today they are arguably the dominant and most compelling genre. Discuss the shift in taste, attitude, and literary approach that accounts for the current popularity of memoirs. Talk about recent memoirs that this volume may have influenced. How has the memoir genre changed since Gunther wrote this book?

About the Author: John Gunther was born on August 30, 1901 on the North Side of Chicago. He was one of the best known and most admired journalists of his day, and his series of "Inside" books, starting with Inside Europe in 1936, were immensely popular profiles of the major world powers. One critic noted that it was Gunther's special gift to "unite the best qualities of the newspaperman and the historian." It was a gift that readers responded to enthusiastically. The "Inside" books sold 3,500,000 copies over a period of thirty years.

While publicly a bon vivant and modest celebrity, Gunther in his private life suffered disappointment and tragedy. He and Frances Fineman, whom he married in 1927, had a daughter who died four months after her birth in 1929. The Gunthers divorced in 1944. In 1947, their beloved son Johnny died after a long, heartbreaking fight with brain cancer. Gunther wrote his classic memoir Death Be Not Proud, which was published in 1949, to commemorate the courage and spirit of this extraordinary boy. Gunther remarried in 1948, and he and his second wife, Jane Perry Vandercook, adopted a son. John Gunther died on May 29, 1970.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 63 )
Rating Distribution

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(44)

4 Star

(6)

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(6)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 63 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 14, 2011

    New Perspectives

    When you think about death, what comes to mind? Death drags along so many images and feelings; it's difficult to pin on just one. Some people think of sadness, tears, heart-break, and grief- lots of grief. This is definitely not the case for Johnny Gunther in Death Be Not Proud. Before I was even half way through the book, the resilience of young Johnny already amazed me. When vulnerably exposed to the face of death, he somehow manages to keep a positive perspective on life. "Almost always when I called him early in the morning to ask how he was feeling, he would answer, no matter how feeble his voice was, 'Simply marvelous!'" (39). This book is meant for anyone- young, old or somewhere in between- who could use a bit of hope in their lives because Gunther portrays that element very well throughout his story. He expands on the tiniest details and re-lives those glorious moments for readers, "What a blessed day it was when, with great shouts of glee, Johnny was allowed a real shampoo!" (81). Why on earth would anyone get excited about using this every-day toiletry? Johnny knew the answer to that question which displays to audiences his full grasp on life and longing to enjoy every aspect of it. Occasionally, parts seemed dull and maybe even repetitive. The common scene of doctor, after doctor, after doctor is recurrent but I cannot argue with that fact mostly because much of Johnny's final months were doing just that! Some might argue that Gunther's closeness to this case might fog the view on his son's death. But I am convinced that his close proximity to each event taken place made it possible to produce such a well-descripted, emotion-packed piece of work. I highly recommend this memoir to anyone looking for a new perspective on life or just wants a touching read.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2010

    Death be Not Proud is very inspirational to all of the audience no matter what age they are

    This book was inspiring because Johnny Gunther Jr. was a young boy who was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was in his teens. Since this is the year 1943 the doctors don't know very many things about the certain type of cancer that he had. Although he had half of his brain removed he could still move around and do stuff one of the most amazing things that he did was when he had to finish 43 labs in one week he did because he worked hard in it and if he hadn't have died in the summer then he would have been enrolled in Harvard in the fall. This book really motivated me telling me that anybody can do anything as long as they believe in themselves that they can do it then they can do it. This is shown in when the doctors say that he only has a year to live and he fights with the cancer super hard and he winds up living an extra three months. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get inspired.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2010

    What conquers Death?

    Death Be Not Proud resonates with me on many different levels. Without going into personal matters, as a teenager, this book quickly became my favorite. It's the personal recount of a father, John Gunther, struggling with his terminally ill son, Johnny, inflicted with a brain tumor. It's about the unstoppable nature parents posses to save their child, regardless of how silly or inconceivable the strategy might seem. Diets to starve the tumor. Gas to shrink it. It's about searching for answers that no one has. Through this entire ordeal, Johnny, has an unwavering passion for life. While his body suffers the effects of the procedures and the tumor, his mind does not. That is something special I keep referring back to. For Johnny, with an IQ off the charts, letters to Albert Einstein at 16 or 17 years old, and taking on course loads that had never been entertained at his school, his mind was one of his greatest gifts.

    As his father points out, it's ironic that the best feature of Johnny was the one that was being attacked. Of course, identifying something as best is all relative. I would suggest his heart was his best feature. I applaud Gunther for writing this tribute to Johnny. With this book, Johnny's memory can now last in the minds of millions, not just the few that had the privilege to actually know this special young man.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2007

    A reviewer

    I literally just finished reading this memoir at three in the morning. Not only the style with which Gunther writes but also the story behind it all and Johnny's experience itself, combine to make this memoir truly life changing. No more can be said about this book that I would recommend to anyone who asks.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2013

    Anonymous

    Did this novel make you cry?

    Click below. Yes or No?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2010

    Inspring Struggle to Live

    Reading Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther reminded me of the hints of pain I saw my sister go through while her best friend fought against cancer. However, reading this book did not make me feel very emotional at all. Sure, there were points in the book when I felt touched by Johnny Gunther's tough pride and perseverance, but his father writes in a very dry style that doesn't convey much drama or emotion. Too often he does not go into much detail and he does not delve into his pain or his ex-wife's pain and instead focuses on the events. It may have been hard to remember his own struggle, but I was hoping for more of a father's memoir of his pain as he watched his son, instead of a chronicled book of events, very much like a history textbook.
    However, the inspiring, brilliant story of Johnny Gunther's fight made me think about life. I wondered about fate and destiny and if I have any control over that. Johnny did not know of his terminal condition, and he continued to believe he would return to his normal life after the cancer was eradicated. His love for academics, especially chemistry and physics, was wondrous to read about. His capacity for knowledge, even when his brain was under such stress and dealing with a very large tumor, was amazing. He continued to learn, expand his knowledge, and conduct many laboratory experiments even in the hospital. Johnny's high school graduation was probably the highlight of the memoir. His heroic battle just to walk down the aisle of the church was exciting to imagine.
    The novel was a drag to read sometimes because of the bland wording which pushed the reader away from the time of Johnny's illness. However, I would recommend this memoir to anyone, especially children who need to be exposed to some of the darker sides of life. Johnny's inspiring fight will give anyone the courage and will to live.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2008

    Sad and poignant

    I read this book years ago, and I'm glad I was able to find this title again. What I did remember was I found it good how the boy, although he was very sick was able to see life in everything.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2005

    The world would of been so much brighter if he had lived...

    No book that I have ever read has captured my complete atention as the way this book did, and I am only 14. And to think that it was all true, saddens me to the point that I wish I could give my life to let this boy live. Johnny was a person who deserved to live. He put so much hard work into everything he did. His intellegence was so immense and incredible. It's hard to believe that a boy that smart and dilegent died to the evil monster, cancer. His story inspired me to be the very best that I can be, because that is what Johnny did, to his very last breath. He was the best he could have been at the point of his death. That is what makes me smile, to think that he could of been no better than what he actually was when he died. He was certainly something and truely special. His continual strength and will to keep a smile on his face and the people around him through his illness is an act all itself so great. It bothers me to wonder what would of become of Johnny had he lived. He could of contributed a great deal to the world. Although the story and memory, and the feeling of his undying will and desire to strive to be the very best that you can be is enough. He would of been a leading brain of his time. I know it. Though, the one question I wanted answered at the end of the book is that if he got accepted to Harvard. I so greatly hope he did. If he didn't then that was the worst decision that Harvard ever made, despite had he lived. If he was accepted, I feel left out as to see of what great things he could of done with the aid of their education. This is the best book I have ever read, and I thank my 8th grade Gifted Language Arts teacher gave it to me to read. I have an undying respect to the doctors who helped Johnny live as long as he did, and his parents who never gave up, never stopped searching, and most importantly of all never stopped loving him. I recommend this book. It should be read by the whole world, and its effects will be for the better.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2004

    The True Meaning Of Courage

    I've read this book so many times. I feel that I know Johnny. I think of how his spirit was so strong. Everytime that I read this book I expect the ending to be different. I expect him to beat death and live a full life. I want my son to read this book and see that he was a seventeen year old just like him but he was trying to do so much with so little time. I wish that someone would do a movie on this book. It will be a book for every generation.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2004

    A must read

    I loved this book. Usually in this genre I am filled with a sense of graditude and faith, but I was filled with a sense of loss in this book because without a doubt, the world would have been better were Johnny allowed to live. But this book truly portrayed how fragile life is and how things aren't fair. This is a must read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2004

    Memorable story

    I first read Death Be Not Proud when I was a junior high school student (45 years ago). I was greatly impressed by the courage and intelligence of Johnny Gunther. I recently saw the title when visiting a Barnes and Noble store and purchased a copy. As I reread this moving story, I am again deeply touched, but this time I ache for the pain of the parents. While it is indeed a sad and tragic story, Johnny Gunther's courage in the face of death is inspirational. I highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2003

    Johnny Gunther is an Angel

    I read this book when I was in the 10th grade (1989 I believe) and I was moved so much that I felt like I would have traded places with Johnny if I could have. I read it again about four years later...I never reread books...That's what actually makes this novel indescribabe. It definitely has been the ONE book that I'll never forget!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2003

    A sad but meaningful book

    The book Death Be Not Proud was a very interesting book about the life of Johnny told by his dad. Johnny's dad (John) was a emotional writer and I think that is what made this book so interesting. The way that John talks about his son and the things he went through show just how much love he has for him. Johnny was such a brave 17 year old boy that was also very smart. He lived longer than anyone would have expected because of his desire to know more about everything in life. I enjoyed reading this book because it gave me a desire to get more out of my life and spend more time learning new things.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2003

    AWESOME!!!

    I wish I could have given this book more than five stars. It is definitely my all time favorite book. Although I am only sixteen, I don't think I will ever find another to leave me with the same feelings. Even while reading this book for the second and third times, I was still hoping for some cure for Johnny. Death Be Not Proud was written so beautifully. I admire Johnny, his family, and the many doctors that tried so despirately to save him. This is by far one of the best and saddest books I've ever read. Though sad, I closed the book with a smile. I smiled because I now look at things differently. I have realized that you must live life to its fullest, for there are others who have been far less fortunate than those of us who are reading this now.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2014

    So sad:(

    I wish Johny didn't have to die!!!!!!!!!!!! He was such a good person and he wanted to live more than anything. It scares me knowing it could happen to anyone. I noticed that there was nothing written about the parents' feelings. In the end it says they had a daughter who died before she turned 1, which means they lost both their children:(

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2013

    Darknight and Soulsearch bio

    Darknight-- AGE: ? GENDER: male RANK: warrior LOOKS: grey and blaxk mixed pelt. Emerled green eyes PERSONALITY: kind, firece, very loyal, protective of siblings and anything he luvs, brave, adventorous SIBLINGS/HISTORY: at plato love res2, startails bio MATE/KIT: i wish!•••• Soulsearch-- AGE: ? GENDER: female RANK: warrior LOOKS: pure black except for white around eyes and one ear PERSONALITY: kinda shy, sweet, nice, good at helping others MATE: sadly, no•••• Nightmagic-- AGE: ? GENDER: male RANK: male LOOKS: a dark brown with light brown paws. Army green eyes PERSONALITY: loyal, short tempered, can become nice, ferice, cunning, quick, good hunter MATE: wants

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    I like penis cookies

    I. Have erectile dysfunction...."_"

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2007

    normal school kid

    in our reading class, our teacher picked books for us. if i became a teacher, i would NEVER make my students read this if they were in junior high or high school. there are very big words in this book and kids these days dont use this kind of language and it was really boring because i didnt get what it was talking about.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2003

    Touching

    It was amazing to read that the ordeal this boy went through didn't hurt his spirit. It was truly touching and i recommend that you read it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2003

    Grab your tissues.

    Overall I would say that this is a must read book. John Gunther tells the story of his son¿s life, and the struggles that he faces with a brain tumor. I would have to say that if you are an emotional person grab the box of tissues because I was taken on an emotional rollercoaster. I would say that throughout the book I was challenged to be positive and stay that way because it can affect others that surround you. When I started reading I was just expecting another good book, but what I did not expect is this motivational and inspirational story. While Johnny was faced with his problems he said something that made me think for a while, ¿The worst thing is to worry to little, not to much. Let¿s keep up a tension.¿

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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