Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: The Probability of Miracles

Wendy Wunder
After a seven year battle with cancer, Cam has gotten the worst news from her doctor. There's nothing else they can do. Short of a miracle, Cam's days are seriously numbered. Unfortunately, Cam doesn't believe in miracles. (She also doesn't believe in God, romantic love, or anything even approaching "fate" or "destiny.") But her mom, and her younger sister, Perry, do believe in miracles and they move from their home in Florida to Promise, Maine, a place where miracles happen every day. Everlasting sunsets. Purple dandelions. Snowstorms in July. Her family wants a miracle, but Cam has her own things to accomplish -- a list of "normal" teenage activities she wants to check off her list before she dies.

Cam is a sarcastic, pessimistic (with good reason) character. Unlike her mother and sister, she's accepted the inescapable and imminent nature of her death and moving from DisneyWorld to Promise, Maine is more to humor them than anything else. Cam doesn't expect to carve out a spot for herself in Promise, and she definitely doesn't expect Asher, the perfect boy she finds herself falling for. In fact, even as these things are happening she doesn't quite believe or trust them. Cam's a cynical, stubborn girl and certainly there were plenty of reasons for this (the cancer, for one. the dead father, for another), but still I found it hard to relate to her. I understood, in a logical way, why she was the way she was, but it didn't make me like her any more and that was a disappointment. If I can't like or relate to a protagonist, there's little hope for me truly liking the book.

However, this book has quite a bit more than just Cam to offer. There's her mother and Perry, both of whom are well-written characters who react uniquely but realistically to Cam's cancer. Her mother would go to the ends of the earth to save Cam, but doesn't suffocate her the way you might expect; on the contrary, she pushes Cam to live her life as normally and fully as possible. I loved this, just as I loved the way Perry looked up to Cam despite their often antagonistic relationship.

The town of Promise was, in a word... brilliant. From the miracles to its hidden, elusive nature (the road into town can only be found from the drive-thru of a Dunkin' Donuts) of Promise, it's one of the most magical, ethereal settings I've come across. It's a place perfectly suited to the pursuit of a life-saving miracle and it was easy for me to see how Asher, Cam's love interest, would have no desire to leave. The relationship between Cam and Asher had a slow build and started out wonderfully, with the two of them trading snarky banter and slowly building a friendship. However, once the romance aspect entered the framework of their relationship, it overtook everything else and moved so quickly that it wound up feeling a little cardboard. Eventually it felt like Asher was just there to be Cam's boyfriend, her "true love," and the shallowness of their relationship didn't fit the deep feelings they professed to have for each other. It was hard to see what Asher saw in Cam, why he fell so hard for her, and also difficult to pinpoint just what, exactly, brought the two together. Any commonalities between them seemed more a result of them sharing the same space than any true connection.

Wendy Wunder is a talented writer with a unique voice; I loved the writing of The Probability of Miracles and will definitely be on the look for her next book. But unfortunately with this one, everything swings back around to Cam, the character at the center of this book's universe. There were moments, few and far between, where I felt like I really "got" her, but those moments quickly dissipated and I was left with a cynical, angry, sarcastic character whose nature I can't blame entirely on her circumstances. Her stoic nature and lack of belief in anything, along with the fact that even at the end it was hard to tell if she eventually came around to believing in miracles, definitely didn't endear me to her. The things she did and the way she constantly seemed to contradict or crush the hopes of those around her, the people who loved her so much, made it difficult to be around her for three-hundred-plus pages. And though the ending is wonderful, beautifully written, and just the right amount of unexpected, the fact that the rest of the book didn't have the same emotional thrust, made it feel unearned.

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