Forever Changes

Forever Changes

4.0 6
by Brendan Halpin

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5:30 a.m., Brianna Pelletier gets ready for her daily pounding. As she lies on the couch, her dad beats her chest, then her back, coaxing the mucus out of her lungs. The pounding doesn’t take care of everything. Brianna’s held out for a long time, but a body with cystic fibrosis doesn’t last forever. It doesn’t matter that Brianna has a


5:30 a.m., Brianna Pelletier gets ready for her daily pounding. As she lies on the couch, her dad beats her chest, then her back, coaxing the mucus out of her lungs. The pounding doesn’t take care of everything. Brianna’s held out for a long time, but a body with cystic fibrosis doesn’t last forever. It doesn’t matter that Brianna has a brilliant mathematical mind or that she’s a shoo-in for MIT. Or even that her two best friends are beautiful, popular, and loyal. In the grand scheme of things, none of that stuff matters at all. The standard life, lasting maybe seventy-five years, is no more than a speck in the sum total of the universe. At eighteen, and doubting she’ll make nineteen, Brianna is practically a nonentity. Of course she’s done the math. But in her senior year of high school, Brianna learns of another kind of math, in which an infinitely small, near-zero quantity can have profound effects on an entire system. If these tiny quantities didn’t exist, things wouldn’t make the same sense.

Funny, tear-jerking, and memorable, the author’s second novel for teens introduces readers to an extraordinary girl who learns that the meaning of forever can change, and that life – and death – is filled with infinite possibilities.


Forever Changes is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Sarah Maury Swan
Brianna Pelletier is finally in her senior year of high school, a time when she should be choosing a college and looking forward to a bright future. Instead she knows this is the year she will die. She is terrified of dying. Brianna has battled cystic fibrosis all her life. Her father has tried to give her as normal a life as he can, encouraging her to follow her dreams of life as a mathematician. He nags her to apply to MIT. Brianna's AP Calculus teacher is happy to engage in philosophical debates with her about the esoteric concepts of math. When she discovers he is dying of heart disease, she asks him if he is scared of dying. She comes to grips with her own death, but is accepted into MIT and briefly fantasizes what it would be like as a college student. When she realizes the end is near, she writes a letter to her math teacher's estranged daughter in hopes she will get in touch with her father. Brianna also writes a letter to her own mother who ran off rather than watch her daughter suffer. I would have liked a bit more of Brianna's feelings about her mother surfacing earlier in the book so the letter could show us more of a change. Although Brianna does not think she has made a difference in the world during her short life, we see she has encouraged friends to stretch their minds and has brought love and peace to those she knows. This is a well written and emotional book. The characters are well drawn with distinct voices, and Brianna's math teacher is quite droll. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan
VOYA - Lisa A. Hazlett
Brianna is popular, has a brilliant mathematical mind, and is certain of MIT acceptance. She also has cystic fibrosis and balks at university applications, not foreseeing graduation. Terrified of death and wondering whether her life has mattered, she turns ordinary events into calculations to avoid darker thoughts. Senior year forces Brianna's realization that her future has arrived and is quite different from peers' optimistic ones. Now viewing classmates differently, she sees inner character as more important than superficial popularity and broadens her friendships. She also bonds with Mr. Eccles, her calculus teacher, who reveals his own terminal diagnosis and uses mathematics to demonstrate that the universe exists because of all things being purposeful, interconnected, and dependent. Their complex discussions help both assuage fears and further broaden Brianna's perspective by showing others with dire conditions and reminding her that everyone-not just herself-dies. Again purposeful, Brianna writes to her long-gone mother, Mr. Eccles's estranged daughter, and applies to MIT. She receives a scholarship but is hospitalized afterwards. Although death quickly follows, she meets it contentedly. This book is no tear-jerker; cystic fibrosis details are vague and seldom shown, and Brianna matter-of-factly acknowledges her decreased life expectancy. Much of the story relates typical senior year drama with Brianna actively participating in sailing, shopping, and partying virtually symptom-free. Depicting the management of her illness would have provided better balance and a smoother segue to her death. Math-minded females contemplating life's complexities should benefit from Brianna'sexperiences and scientific perspective. Reviewer: Lisa A. Hazlett
KLIATT - Myrna Marler
Young people often think they are immortal, immune to the dangers of drug overdoses, speeding, or hitchhiking. Some become obsessed with death and see time slipping away like sand slipping through the fingers. Some young people do have a fatal illness and contend every day with the knowledge that their time on earth is limited. How does a vibrant, I-want-to-live teen cope with that reality when all of high school is about preparing for the future? This novel's 18-year-old protagonist is a senior. Her father is pressuring her to apply to MIT because of her brilliant mathematical mind, but she knows that not many people with cystic fibrosis last beyond the age of 19. Brianna fears death and thinks about it every night and every morning, contemplating infinity and the meaning of her brief life, or anyone's life while here. During the day, she manages to push those feelings aside because she has excellent friends, a seeking articulate mind, a father who loves her, music to listen to, and a role to play as a CF mentor. She meets an engaging calculus teacher, also contemplating the infinite and his mortality because of a heart condition. He is a good teacher but has been an imperfect man; however, he and Brianna forge a bond in their shared mortality and find comfort in a mathematical concept holding that without infinite infinitesimals life would not be possible as we know it. In spite of her fears and imperfections, Brianna lives courageously and dies peacefully. This is a good book to help young people contemplate the meanings they are making of their own lives and eventual deaths. Reviewer: Myrna Marler
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

Brianna, a high school senior, lives with her devoted motorcycle-fixing dad and has two popular best friends. A verifiable math wizard, she is sure to be accepted at MIT. Unfortunately, she also has cystic fibrosis and begins each morning with a chest-pounding, courtesy of her father, to loosen the mucus coating her lungs. The death of Molly, a friend who also had CF, haunts Brianna and she fears that she will be next. With her body slowly failing her, she sometimes doesn't see the point of applying to college or thinking about her future. Comfort comes from two unlikely sources. Adam, a dorky new friend from math class introduces her to Love, a 1960s band whose lyrics speak to her. Mr. Eccles, her calculus teacher, also facing his own mortality, teaches her about infinitesimals. These quantities are important in calculus: "Something which seems to be nearly nothing turns out to be crucial to everything." Brianna finds strength in this idea when confronting her own mortality and the value of her life. Although the end wraps up too quickly and offers little hope for people with CF, this is a heartbreaking story of courage, friendship, and acceptance, with some great math concepts to boot.-Ragan O'Malley, Saint Ann's School, Brooklyn, NY

Kirkus Reviews
A teen with cystic fibrosis learns that her limited life can hold infinite potential. Brianna has little sentimentality about her illness, preferring to focus on the present and to try not to worry about the future. A gifted mathematician, she applies to MIT even though she knows she may not live to graduate and go on to a career. In her last year of high school, she befriends the class geek through a shared love of an acid-inspired rock album and is inspired to think about the relationships among math, life and infinity by her loquacious, eccentric math teacher. The writing, though minimalist, captures much dimension in the personalities of Brianna and those who love her. Friends whom Brianna has lost to cystic fibrosis are mentioned and remembered, but not obsessed over. Brianna is not particularly rich, beautiful, brave or intelligent (outside of math), but she understands mortality and the importance of living life rather than dwelling on the certainty of early death. An excellent next read for teens who enjoyed Jenny Downham's Before I Die (2007). (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.23(w) x 8.09(h) x 0.81(d)
890L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt


As the warm sunlight faded, there was a faint chill in the breeze coming off the harbor. Brianna popped a pill, washed it down with water, and ate a tortilla chip. Dad took a long pull on his Corona. They were the only people sitting on the terrace of Captain Cancun’s Mexican Ristorante on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

"So," Dad said, and with that one word, she could tell he was about to hit on some topic she didn’t want to talk about. That "so," delivered with that expectant tone, was always the way he launched

them into some kind of awkward discussion she didn’t want to have. "So," he’d say. "Any cute boys in class this year?" or "So. How’s the hangover?" or, tonight, "So. When are we going to go college visiting?"

Brianna dipped another chip and looked out at the harbor. Just at the line of the horizon, she could see a boat. As she watched, it disappeared over the horizon, off to sea, off maybe to Spain,

where it would end up if it kept going straight from here all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Except it wouldn’t be straight, because the idea of straight on a curved surface was kind of sketchy.

It would actually be a direct line following the curvature of the earth.

"I dunno. I mean, I don’t think . . . Melissa wants us to take the commuter rail in so she can have a tour and an interview at BU. So maybe I’ll just do that."

"I looked on the Web site. MIT has info sessions twice a day. I really think you should schedule an interview and go, Bri."

Suddenly, the tortilla chips were very interesting. She picked one up, thought briefly that calculating the area of this chip would be difficult because, again, it wasn’t a collection of points in a two dimensional plane, it was a three-dimensional surface with a pronounced curvature. All the better to scoop up the last of the salsa. As she scraped it from the bottom of the white bowl, Brianna decided she didn’t want to fight tonight. She was finally feeling better, and even with that little chill in the air reminding her that school was starting in two days, it still felt like summer. She wanted to hold on to this night, this last glimpse of summer, and not screw it up with tears and name-calling and telling Dad what he didn’t want to hear. She looked out at the harbor, felt the breeze on her face, and thought she’d probably never see the end of summer again, so it was just easier to say, "Okay, Dad."

Dad’s shoulders relaxed. He’d been gearing up for a fight, and she could see the relief on his face. "Thanks," he said.

Brianna smiled. "Least I can do."

Dad said, "Well, we’ve gotta be up early tomorrow. I guess we should hit the road." Brianna knew he also didn’t want her on the back of his bike after dark, but she decided not to bust his chops.

Dad raised his arm to signal the waitress, and the sleeve of his T-shirt slid up slightly, revealing the tattoo of Brianna’s name and birth date inside a heart. The waitress came over, and Brianna saw her eyes flit down to Dad’s massive bicep. "Anything else for you tonight? Another Corona?" she asked hopefully.

"Not tonight," Dad said. "Driving."

The waitress smiled. "Okay then," she said, gathering up their plates. "Let me just get this out of your way, and I’ll be right back with your check."

"Thanks," Dad said.

Brianna looked over to the beach. It was getting dark, and she could see the last few dedicated beachgoers collecting their coolers, blankets, towels, and umbrellas, and heading away from the sea. She fought back a pang of sadness. Every other September she could remember, she’d looked forward to the start of school, the new classes, the new clothes—it had always felt exciting, like everything was starting fresh.

But now she didn’t feel like anything new or exciting was starting; she just felt like something was ending.

Excerpted from FOREVER CHANGES by Brendan Halpin.

Copyright © 2008 by Brendan Halpin.

Published in 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

BRENDAN HALPIN was a high school English teacher for ten years. He is the author of How Ya Like Me Now. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Forever Changes 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WishStealer More than 1 year ago
Great read! I love how this book wasn't cliche and the main character had Cystic Fibrosis instead of cancer, like usual books. I wish it was in first person, but third person is okay too. The ending is sad, but sweet.
Abbyriddle More than 1 year ago
At age nineteen, Brianna Pelletier is a senior in high school and lives a normal life just like every other teenager. With the exception of just one thing, she is living with Cystic Fibrosis. She is only nineteen, yet she contemplates death almost every day. This book is an absolutely fantastic read. It touches on deep and intense thoughts yet still achieves a level of maturity and lightness that makes it extremely enjoyable to read. The main character, Brianna, sees life in an unusual perspective that will touch anyone's heart. Although Brianna is a sweet person, she looks at almost everything in a "take me as I am" kind of way which makes the character easy to relate to. In this book there are many times when the emotional level runs high, making it impossible to put down. The explanation of Brianna's character in this book is superb, and one will find that when reading this book, they will become completely submersed in the intensity of every scene and interaction between the characters. This book is a wonderful and thorough book and it might even change the way one looks at life forever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book!! It Seems a little slow moving, but the message that it has is just astounding!! It really makes you want to reevaluate how you live your own life. Saying that every single person in the world has an effect on..well, everyone else, is just so amazing! I love how that is a main theme! It's a feel good book, and a message that everyone should hear!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Brianna Pelletier was born with a death sentence. Her DNA gave her Cystic Fibrosis. The only unknown for Brianna is how long she will have.

It's Brianna's senior year and while her friends are planning for college, Brianna's plans are far simpler: live to see graduation. She never intended to go to college. She never believed she'd survive this long. But things are going pretty good. She's managed to avoid any serious infections and remain out of the hospital. She fears that if she needs to return to the hospital, she'll never leave. Well, she'd never leave alive.

So as senior year progress, she gains insight into what it means to really live, by an unlikely source - her ailing math teacher. Her alphabetically placed study buddy, Adam, hears a rumor that Mr. Eccles was in a band, Love, in the past. Downloading the music, Adam shares the bizarre album, Forever Changes, with Brianna. The music reaches a part of her that she could never put into words. After hearing the music, and then encountering Mr. Eccles one evening on a deserted beach, the two form an understanding with each other.

Through Brianna's dad's gentle love, the nerdy pressure from Adam, and the desire to live courtesy of Mr. Eccles, Brianna takes living to the next step - she attends an information session at MIT and takes the scariest step of her life, sending in her application. This action could bring hope or despair. On one level, she fears that by sending it in, she is hexing herself that she will never live to see her admission to MIT. But on another level, she doesn't want to die and wants some ray of hope, something to live for.

In Brianna, Mr. Halpin shares with readers both a wish to live and a desire to not die, which really are not one and the same. Brianna does her best with the hand she's been dealt. More than anything, she dreams of being like everyone else without a care in the world, but she has greater obstacles to overcome. She does so bravely and without blame. She's an inspiring character to curl up and share a few hours with.